LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."
A common accusation against circuses is that animals are 'forced' to perform, when the truth is that they are encouraged to exhibit behaviour that they find natural and enjoyable. Training and performance are organised play, like an owner throwing a ball for a dog to retrieve. The dog brings back the ball because he enjoys the game, as can be seen by his eagerness to repeat it. It would be impossible to force such a response.
In any group of animals of the same type, whether dogs, horses or lions, some individuals will be cleverer than others or stronger in some skills than others. A circus trainer's skill lies in being sensitive to each animal's nature and matching it to an appropriate routine. A particularly agile animal would be trained in jumping, for example. A more docile or affectionate one would be chosen for close contact work where the presenter hugs or kisses the animal.
But what happens to animals that don't enjoy training at all? They don't get trained, simple as that.
That was the case with Syas one of the tigers in Thomas Chipperfield's show An Evening With Lions and Tigers. Syas has now left the company for a new home, and the following statement from the show illustrates the love and responsibility trainers feel towards even those animals who don't wish to perform:
We stopped including Syas in our shows back in 2014 as his personality did not fit with preforming. He has a very short attention span and likes to do his own thing. Like people animals are individuals some take to working and preforming very well such as Syas’ brother Altai who enjoys working and human interaction. We would never force any of our animals to do something they are not completely happy and comfortable with. We decided to keep Syas with us for company for his brother, however, over the past 12 months as they have matured they have grown apart. Altai has shown more and more affection towards the lions and his human carers while Syas does his own thing. So with great consideration and emotional turmoil we decided he would be best suited to a zoo environment where he could be potentially part of a breeding program for these endangered species. We found a home back in 2016, however we pulled the plug after information came to light that the home was not suitable and we would not send any of our animals to a home we were not 100% satisfied with. Then this year as the opportunity arouse for home that seemed perfect after much communication and seeing the new habitat plans offered for him we decided to go ahead with the rehome. It’s important our animals’ individual needs come first above our own personal attachment. Tsavo, Assegai and Altai are all very happy together and are eager to start our tour this season.