Love at the circus

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?

6 thoughts on “Love at the circus

  1. Equating farm animals to circus animals is drawing an incredibly long bow Marian. Keeping elephants, tigers, lions, monkeys in small cages or shackled, constantly under stress from travel, lacking adequate exercise and often ill-treated for some cheap laughs is the absolute antithesis of animal welfare. I always find circuses (and circus people) sad, pathetic and tawdry; a reminder of a time when bear baiting, dog fighting and cock fighting were also acceptable entertainment.


  2. It tends to be a fraught subject Marian. I see how humans interact with animals as a being along a spectrum – rather than good vs bad. At one end is animal cruelty (used to be acceptable, now not), then it is making sure animals dont suffer (used to be acceptable, now generally not), then animal welfare (accepted in some places, not others) and animal rights (accepted only by some) . Where each of us sits on this spectrum colours our views on things like circuses, but also farm animals. Many of the discussions I have with animal rights adherents fall over at the first hurdle – we start arguing from completely different worldviews.


    • So true, Ian. My position is this: is the animal well and happy? If yes, then “pass”, if not, “fail”. Good farmers know their animals well enough to tell. Bad farmers should choose another vocation.


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