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  Dolphin circus sparks animal cruelty debate

Dolphin circus sparks animal cruelty debate

Published : Jan 26, 2016, 1:13 am IST
Updated : Jan 26, 2016, 1:13 am IST

Inside a travelling aquatic circus in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, whoops and cheers go up as a dolphin leaps out of a pool and slam-dunks a ball through a basketball net.

Dolphins perform at Moscow Dolphinarium in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.	— AFP
 Dolphins perform at Moscow Dolphinarium in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. — AFP

Inside a travelling aquatic circus in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, whoops and cheers go up as a dolphin leaps out of a pool and slam-dunks a ball through a basketball net.

Hundreds of people packed inside the Moscow Travelling Dolphinarium to watch dolphins and beluga whales perform acrobatic stunts, against a painted backdrop of blue skies and palm trees. A blonde female announcer dressed as a sailor spurs on the animals like champion athletes.

“A real sportsman doesn’t give up so easily,” she booms as a beluga named Dandy leaps out of the water but fails to whack a ball hanging on a string with his tail.

But he does not fluff up his second attempt.

“And he’s got it this time!” the presenter shouts as the crowd roars in approval over a soundtrack of blaring rock and Russian pop ballads.

While the New Year’s show wowed crowds in landlocked Kyrgyzstan, it also fuelled a long-running debate in former Soviet states about cruelty to animals. Travelling dolphinariums are banned across much of the world but remain popular in the ex-Soviet bloc where forms of circus entertainment prohibited in the West, such as acts with wild animals like lions and bears, continue to thrive despite concerns about animal welfare. Yet opposition to animal abuse has grown in recent times, with local activists using the Internet to gather data and mobilise opposition to practises they say involve animal cruelty or stress.

Before the Moscow dolphin circus rolled into town, 1,500 people signed an online petition imploring Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev to ban it.

On opening night, a group of protesters picketed the performance with posters featuring drawings of weeping dolphins, some of them by children.

“Why has this dolphin circus ended up in Kyrgyzstan Because it has nowhere else to go and we are a poor country with lax legislation,” Anna Kirilenko of BIOM, an environmentalist non-profit organisation based in Bishkek, told AFP.

Authorities in Bishkek however defended the show.

“Dolphins love to be touched. Training and performances are a form of play for dolphins...They were born in captivity and thus would not survive in the wild,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.

Video footage secretly recorded by citizen journalists showing a circus whale in the Russian city of Perm being kept in a small metal container for days on end has been used by activists to press their case.

A representative of the Moscow Travelling Dolphinarium denied any connection between the circus and the whale in Perm, saying the company never toured in Russia outside the capital.

Location: Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek shaary, Bishkek