Leaving her confines twice a day during peak season, dressed up in her finest, her adoring fans gather around Anne so that they can get a few happy snaps with the star of the show. At night, she is beaten, stabbed, spat on. Her bruised and battered body flinching from the blows, her arthritic body aches but the shackles around her ankle hinders her escape. This is the life of Britain’s last surviving circus elephant and despite calls for her release, Bobby Roberts, the owner of Super Circus, has refused to let his “beloved” Elephant go claiming that “she is part of the family” (Greenwood & Elillcot 2015).
Anne’s story is not unique, many exotic have, and still do, endure a similar fate. Shoved into small crates and cages for long stretches of time as the circus travels from town to town they show the signs of stress only synonymous with non-domesticated animals. Pacing back and forth, head shaking, or broken teeth from biting on cage bars. They are forced to perform for large, loud crowd’s multiple times a day fearful of the punishment they will receive if they do not. And while the push back to ban the use of any animal in circuses, there are still a handful who hold onto the tradition.
While there are no longer any performing elephants in Australia since 2007, two circuses, Stardust and Lennon Bros, still use Lions as part of their shows. Glenn West who is the manager of Stardust is adamant that the lions in his circus are very well looked after even going so far as to say they have a better life than some lions kept in zoo’s as he states that he “believes that a lion in the circus is a 100 times happier than any zoo lion because they get new experiences all the time and they get handled and cuddled,”(Stirton 2015) . However, despite West being determined that his lions are kept in the best conditions and treated with respect and care many Councils in Australia are refusing to allow the circuses to set up in their towns. But West still believes that his lions are happy, and that they enjoy performing for those that come to watch the shows.
The lions, like those seen at the Stardust circus, are often bred in captivity, some 21 generations old. But these are still animals that have yet to be fully “domesticated’ and still hold onto their natural predatory, instinctive traits which has, occasionally, lead to the deaths of those that train them. In 2013 Alexander Crispin, a 35-year-old trainer at a circus in Suarez, Mexico, was attacked and killed during a performance. That night one of the tigers decided to break from his normal routine and lunged at Crispin, knocking him to the ground (Ramos 2016). Despite the efforts of other handlers to scare the tiger off, Crispin died of blood loss. In 2010 Killer whale Tillicum, who was the star attraction at SeaWorld and, later, the Documentary Blackfish, brutally attacked and killed his trainer Dawn Brancheau during one of his daily shows. The attack sparked a major investigation, as well as massive protests demanding the release of these whales from captivity.
Fortunately, there is hope for change, organisations such as PETA and other animal-welfare communities, and the incredible impact that documentaries like Blackfish, Circuses have either volunteered or been forced to surrender animals to conservation parks. Such documentaries have led to the popularity of circuses and theme parks using animals as entertainment for audiences to die out and legislation’s have also begun to change banning the use of whales and other exotic animals in performances, and captive breeding has since been halted all together for Killer Whales.
Hopefully there will come a time where there will no longer be cages and barriers holding animals in fabricated African landscapes and those that wish to see lions, elephants or even a whale must venture out into the wilderness to see these beautiful creatures where there were always meant to be. In the wild.
Ramos, A R 2016, 10 Animal Trainers Viciously Killed On The Job, April 26, viewed 27 March 2017,http://listverse.com/2016/04/26/10-animal-trainers-viciously-killed-on-the-job/
Greenwood, C & Ellicot, C 2015, Anne’s agony: Battered, kicked and stabbed, the desperate plight of Britain’s last circus elephant, The daily Mail, August 12, viewed 27 March 2017, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1370050/Britains-circus-elephant-Anne-Battered-kicked-stabbed.html
Stirton, S 2015, ,Animal cruelty, or man’s best friend? The complicated ethics of keeping lions in Australian circuses, Novermber 16, viewed 27 March 2017, http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/animals/animal-cruelty-or-mans-best-friend-the-complicated-ethics-of-keeping-lions-in-australian-circuses/news-story/ecefeec3e227724141a464a93ad84ac5
Chattoo, C B 2015, Breaking Down the Impact of “Blackfish”,January 5, http://cmsimpact.org/social-impact/breaking-down-the-impact-of-blackfish/