Two miniature horses, two sleek chocolate goats, two barrel-shaped red cows and two donkeys were the stars of the circus yesterday. The team of eight struck impossibly cute and clever poses in an incredibly endearing performance.
It all felt very familiar. Circus acts have barely changed since I was six years old, except (and it’s a BIG except) that the animals are far less exotic than the stunning Siberian tigers I remember. The resourceful circus folk have adapted artfully to changing community expectations, shifting the role of performance animals from that of mesmerising danger to beguiling charm.
Of course, some animal activists believe there is no place for animals in a circus at all. I don’t really understand why not. The faces of the two trainers were as much a delight as those of the animals. They coaxed, were proud of their little charges and, when something went wrong, swapped understanding tiny smiles rather than tight-lipped grimaces. In other words, they loved.
Those four-legged circus performers are clearly among the globe’s most treasured creatures – hardly exploited and overworked.
“Exploitation” is a charge often directed at the human carers of working animals, including farmers. But is it a bad thing? Yes, we do exploit the cow’s amazing ability to nourish us, just as the heightened senses of search and rescue dogs are exploited to rescue victims. Working together, humans and animals can achieve so much more than alone. The fundamental question is this: what do the animals rightfully deserve in return for their help?