When I was little, I loved the circus. Now it makes me ill to see the big top.
My mother and I went on weekend excursions; it usually involved animals: the zoo, museums, the library (animal stories, of course), documentaries, and (a favorite), the Hertzberg Circus Collection and Museum. We attended every circus that came to town. My favorites were the horses, dogs, and – the best – wild cats.
In 2007, I followed a lifelong dream and saved, hocked, and scrimped to go to Laikipia, Africa for volunteer work on Kuki Gallmann’s Ol Ari Nyrio, 10,000 acres of wilderness in Kenya. I can still see it, feel it, the night we drove away after a wonderful meal in Kuki’s home, when the excited voices of the local rangers crackled over the radio: “Tell Joo-deet! Joo-Deet! Simba! Simba!” We drove through bush in the open jeep seeking the lions. Finally, Mike parked, cut the jeep engine, and we sat in complete darkness to wait. Mike tried a birdcall or two. Deciding the pride had moved on, Mike flipped on the headlights to start the jeep: not 100 feet away sat the pride, casually draped across the rocks; they had been watching us the entire time. Scared? No. I shook for hours in awe. Nothing, nothing compares to seeing these creatures in their own natural world where humans are interlopers. I penned my African memoirs, with my photos, in my book “An Elephant Snuffled My Tent” (100% of proceeds to Ol Ari Nyrio’s conservation program). “These animals do not belong in a zoo or circus,” I wrote, “but in the protected wild where they can grow and flourish.”
So I watched the attached circus video as I do with all such videos: saddened for the lions. Few people know these lions often urinate on themselves in fear when “performing.” They are kept in cages, fed prepared meat, in unnatural climates, then subjected to scintillating lights, rancorous music, they involuntarily jump, walk, and roll, sometimes facing fire. Forced to be with other species of cats and humans who squeal, shout, and gawk, the lions pace, they lose hair and bite themselves, they snarl in fear (all stress signs). When they strike back to defend themselves, they are destroyed, labeled “killers,” “dangerous.”
The problem of trying to turn wild animals into pets and performers is also addressed in my self defense book “How to Recognize the Devil.” Why? If we do not care for our environment (“Mama Earth,” as Kuki says) we ultimately destroy ourselves. And a caged animal may be loved, petted, and fed treats, but ultimately, one day, it will become tired of this and strike back, to assert and protect itself. No matter how you “train” or “care for” lions, they are not made to dress up or beat down to create pawns on display. The result is what you see in the video.
Another serious issue with performance animals is what we are teaching children, the staple income of the circus. We are showing them force is acceptable with animals, that wild animals in a cage are content, or a lion attacking people is at fault. Children can learn about wild animals via videos; if they are lucky enough, doing volunteer work in Africa (“Safari parks” in Africa are usually ran by foreign entities with little or no investment towards conservation, and create easy access for poachers).
With roots in Ancient China and Egypt, circus animals were used to awe and captivate humans who had never seen a lion or an elephant. When simple display was not enough to woo a crowd, the animals were taught tricks. Today, more circuses are being forced to close down animal shows and rely on human performers.
I am grateful, as a child, I was allowed to learn about wild animals; it taught me a love and respect I carry today for all creatures. I am grateful, as an adult, I am educated about wild animals in performance acts; my love and respect for the creatures helps educate others. A “wild” animal is called “wild” for a reason and should never be “domesticated.”
PHOTOS BY J. YATES - MAY NOT BE COPIED