Thomas & Friends TV Series Creator: 'No Circuses With Animals'

Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends Creator Says, 'No Circuses With Animals for My Family'Britt Allcroft's Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends TV series and Thomas and the Magic Railroad movie are loved by children all around the world. The characters Thomas, Gordon, Henry, Emily, James and Percy conjure up memories of sitting in a cosy classroom captivated by Thomas' adventures with his friends.

After more than 25 years of producing the TV series about Thomas and his pals, Allcroft is now bringing a message of compassion to teachers and families by urging them to choose outings that help children learn to appreciate animals and the natural world.

Animals are used in some older circuses to entertain the crowd by performing tricks, but there are many circuses that do not use animals for entertainment. The Chinese State Circus and Cirque Surreal are dazzling theatrical events performed solely by humans. Some people believe circuses without animals are not 'real' circuses, while others think it is unfair to make animals perform.

Read Allcroft's thoughts on circuses that use animals and her alternative suggestions for your class.

When I was a child and still believed that the world was as kind to everyone as it was to me, a travelling circus set up in the big park behind my house. I remember snuggling under my blankets at night to listen to the lions roar. Safe in my bed, I imagined that this English park had magically transformed into some wonderful exotic place in a far-away land.

Now that I have shed much of my childhood innocence, I realise that the lions weren't proclaiming their power but instead were crying out for freedom. If I had understood this when I was a child, I would never have gone to the circus. Now that I am grown up and have a family of my own, I think that a circus with animals is no place to take children.

I do not blame my mother for taking me to the circus – in those days, nobody knew what we know now. Twenty years ago, I didn't know what I know now.

Here is what I know now: There are animals who are used in circuses who are beaten into submission, forced to live in tiny cages or in chains, and made to perform demeaning, unnatural tricks. Elephants in their natural homes do not stand up on their heads, and tigers don't want to jump through flaming hoops. Children who see these antics will not gain a deeper understanding or appreciation for these magnificent animals. The only lessons young people stand to gain from these kinds of circuses are that the exploitation of weaker beings is acceptable and that apathy is preferable to compassion.

Throughout the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends TV series, which I first began making over 25 years ago, I've tried to instil in children a sense of compassion and fairness. I know that children harbour deep compassion for animals. I'm certain that if children knew about the mistreatment of animals used in circuses, they would never want to go to them.

There's another subtle message that circuses with animals send to young people. Like animals, children are completely at the mercy of stronger beings. When they see animals that are humiliated and forced to perform unnatural acts, they are given the message that it is acceptable to bully weaker beings. If we teach children that it's all right to dominate animals and use them for our amusement, how can we expect children to extend kindness to one another? We must face the facts: Circuses with animals are violent, and exposure to violence damages children. It encourages them to separate beings into "us" and "them".

I believe that what children want is to have fun and inspiring times with their families. Really bonding is what matters. A circus without animals like Cirque du Soleil makes for a great family outing. And there are so many activities that offer children greater insight into the natural world. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Find your way to the nearest park or beach or stretch of countryside – just to stop, look and listen.
  • Watch a documentary about animals in their natural environments.
  • Volunteer at a wildlife-rescue centre or an animal shelter.
  • Go to the local library and share all the books you can find with pictures of animals in their natural environments.
  • Watch elephants – via live video feed – who have been rescued from circuses and zoos and are now living at The Elephant Sanctuary.

I feel that to share this planet with animals is like being given a wonderful present for which I am forever grateful.

– Britt Allcroft