Jakarta's Animal Circuses: Entertainment or Exploitation?

Municipal police and environment agency officers raid a dolphin circus in Semarang, Central Java, in February this year. (JG Photo/Dhana Kencana)

By : Dhania Sarahtika | on 6:12 PM July 13, 2018
Category : Life & Style, Environment, Community

Jakarta. In Jakarta, animals are routinely used to entertain humans, from pony horses pulling tourists in delman – horsecarts – around the National Monument to dolphins pulling off elaborate acrobat shows in one of the city's traveling animal circuses.

Another form of animal entertainment, topeng monyet (dancing monkeys), has been banned for encouraging animal cruelty and causing health scares.

Activists have been lobbying the government to ban all forms of animal exploitation for years, but their campaigns have gained traction with the public only recently, thanks mostly to social media.

Dolphin Circus: Education or Exploitation?

Last month, thirty students from Jendral Soedirman University (Unsoed) in Purwokerto, Central Java, took to the streets to protest a traveling dolphin circus performing in their city.

As reported by Mongabay, the students were concerned about the treatment of the dolphins, which were kept in a makeshift pool made of tarpaulin.

The students said the inadequate facilities for the dolphins were proof of their exploitation.

Zulkifli Hasan, Indonesia's forestry minister in 2013, had issued a ban on dolphin circus and ordered regional Nature Conservation Centers (BKSDA) to stop issuing permits for circus operators.

Indonesia also has a law (Law No. 5/1990) and a government regulation (No. 7/1999) that declare all subspecies of the Dolphinidae family are protected animals.

And yet, dolphins continue being used (and abused) in circus shows around the country.

In 2012, flag carrier Garuda Indonesia was criticized by activists for transporting two dolphins for a circus.

In response, the airline said only that it would reevaluate its animal transport policies, including for dolphins.

Last year, a video went viral showing a dolphin being cargoed by Sriwijaya Air.

The airline said the animal was being moved to a conservation area and that it had met all the standard requirements for dolphin transport.

Three years ago, Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) issued a petition calling for President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to ban dolphin circuses.

The petition followed on and off protests against circus operators since 2009.

Now an Instagram account called "Stop Sirkus Lumba" ("Stop Dolphin Circus"), with over 2,000 followers, shares news clippings and videos exposing the cruel treatment of circus dolphins.

JAAN coordinator Benvika said these traveling circuses put the dolphins' lives in great danger.

When they're being transported, the dolphins are made to lie in a shallow pool of water, forcing them to expend at least twice as much energy to support their own weight compared to when they swim freely in the ocean.

The water quality in the circus pool is another problem.

"They [circus organizers] use chlorine. Fresh water mixed with chemicals is very different from pure sea water. Chlorine irritates the skin and eyes of the dolphins," Benvika said.

He said in the long run, chlorine can cause the dolphins to go blind.

A JAAN video shows that the animals are rarely if ever transported by air in big tanks – as they should be – but carried in small trucks while lying in a very shallow pool.

It also shows dolphins losing their sonar ability because it's been damaged by loud music and cheering of the fans at the circus.

All these physical torture shorten circus dolphins' life span dramatically.

Bottlenose dolphins – commonly used in circuses – live to only around 5 years in captivity.

Out in the oceans, they can live for up to 40 years.

The Jakarta Globe visited an animal circus in Bogor, West Java, that featured a dolphin show at the end of June.

For Rp 40,000-Rp 60,000 ($3-4), visitors can see not only dolphins but also other exotic animals like otters, yellow-crested cockatoos and a sun bear.

Each of them took turns performing at the circus and gets a treat from the trainer after completing each move.

For the dolphin show, two male bottlenose dolphins swam in a pool 3 meters deep and 10 meters in diameter.

The dolphins played fetch, jumped through hoops, answered simple math sums and jumped out of the water briefly to have their photos taken with visitors, mostly families with children.

A dolphin circus show by Wersut Seguni Indonesia in Bogor, West Java, on Thursday (21/06). (JG Photo/Dhania Sarahtika) A dolphin circus show by Wersut Seguni Indonesia in Bogor, West Java, on Thursday (21/06). (JG Photo/Dhania Sarahtika)

The circus, open from June 13 to July 29, is organized by Wersut Seguni Indonesia (WSI), a circus operator based in Kendal, Central Java, that was the subject of the Unsoed students' protest.

The master of ceremony said at the start of the show that WSI has been running the circus since 1999 and carries a permit to operate as a conservation agency from the Environment and Forestry Ministry (KLHK).

The MC's claim was confirmed on the Indonesian Zoo and Aquarium Association's website.

Indra Exploitasia, KLHK's Biodiversity Conservation Director, confirmed to the Globe on Wednesday that WSI does have a permit to stage wild-animal circus in several cities including Bogor.

The permit was issued by the Directorate General of Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation (Dirjen KSDAE) at KLHK.

The permit will expire on Feb. 5, 2020.

"West Java's Nature Conservation Center has inspected the the circus, including the captured animals' health, water quality and other things related to the animals’ welfare. They've also made note on how often the animals had to perform," Indra said in a text message.

There is directorate general regulation on the technical aspects of a dolphin circus (Perdirjen PHKA No. 16/2014) that sets guidelines for transporting the dolphins, and for taking care of the circus pool, including maintaining its salinity level and determining the amount of chlorine that should be added to the water every day.

The MC ended the dolphin show with an "educational" remark, saying that people should love all animals, including the protected dolphins.

Benvika said playing the education card simply doesn't cut it.

"They [the circus organizers] keep saying the show educates children about animal conservation, but that's nonsense. They show dolphins playing a ball, jumping through fire hoops, posing for photos and listening to loud music. There's no education and it must be banned," Benvika said.

Benvika said activists especially disapprove of the traveling dolphin circus, not so much those that perform in a permanent venue.

"Those are still exploitation, but the conditions are better at least. They are also allowed by the law. We are against traveling circuses because they put dolphins in danger. Dolphins often die while being transported. They get sick, stressed out and then die," he said.

In response to the protests, Indra said the government will keep evaluating the circus operators.

Currently, the only circus operators that carry a permit to stage a dolphin circus are WSI and Taman Impian Jaya Ancol. The latter operates in a permanent venue.

"We will evaluate all types of animal exhibitions to ensure animal welfare regulations are strictly adhered to," she said.

My Delman for a Horse

In September last year, a video of an exhausted carriage horse being whipped by the driver after it collapsed on the road went viral.

JAAN activist rescued the horse, now named Chester, and brought him to its animal shelter in Cinere, Depok, West Java.

Last year, Jakarta Deputy Governor Sandiaga Uno made good on his campaign promise to make delman (horse-drawn carriages) available again for tourists at the National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta.

Sandiaga said he would cooperate with government agencies and activists to ensure the horses’ safety.

Delman was banned from Monas during Basuki "Ahok" Tjajaha Purnama’s governorship.

Horse carts waiting for customers on Jalan Thamrin during Jakarta's Car Free Day Sunday. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal) Horse carts waiting for customers on Jalan Thamrin during Jakarta's Car Free Day Sunday. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal)

From 2009 to 2012, JAAN rented an area in Kembangan, West Jakarta, to be a shelter for the delmans of Monas. There, the drivers were trained to care for the horses.

"We taught them how to manage the horses' workload as well. The animals should have off days, just like the drivers," Benvika said.

Benvika said JAAN had wanted to imitate Yogyakarta's well-organized delman management system that includes a set of punishments for drivers who break the rules.

"The Monas delman drivers weren’t so easy to manage. They broke rules and acted as they pleased. Also, we were doing this alone at the time. No one else cared about the situation at Monas," he said.

The program has now been cut because of a lack of support.

Benvika said the organization is not against delman as a mode of transportation.

"We don’t encourage the government to ban delmans because horses have been used as a mode of transportation for a long time. We prefer to educate the drivers," he said.

Unfortunately, some delman drivers have taken advantage of the organization’s care for animals.

Benvika said sometimes the drivers deliberately cause harm to their horses because they know once JAAN finds out, JAAN will demand to take over the animals.

When this happens, the driver will ask for a monetary compensation.

"Dinas Kesehatan Hewan [Animal Health Agency] never confiscates horses, even when something bad happens to them. Eventually, we have to offer the drivers compensation so they give their horses to us," Benvika said.

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