Health and safety in Irish animal circuses

– Part 2


Not surprisingly, given their sheer size, elephants are a species that pose a particular risk to humans in a circus. Vet Samantha Lindley: “However well trained, these animals are essentially wild and therefore unpredictable.”

Since 1990, Freedom for Animals has recorded the deaths of over 70 people and injuries of 140 others, caused by elephants in circuses, zoos and other captive environments around the world.

One of the most notorious incidents occurred in Florida in 1992. An elephant named Janet, carrying six people on her back, ran amok, injuring 12 people. Police officer Blayne Doyle was called in to deal with the situation. Given the seriousness of a rampaging elephant, a decision was made to shoot the animal dead – 57 bullets were pumped into Janet, but it required the use of armour-piercing bullets, specially designed by the military to penetrate steel, before she finally died.

Officer Doyle described it as the most frightening experience of his life and realised that the only way to prevent a similar tragedy is to stop using elephants in circuses and travelling shows altogether. He has since lobbied extensively across the USA for a ban on the use of elephants in circuses.

Regarding incidents such as this, vet Samantha Lindley comments: “There is nothing anyone can do to prevent this happening to any captive elephant and no reliable signs to warn of its imminent occurrence.”

Public walks

In addition to risks created within the circus itself, circuses in Ireland appear to take their elephants for walks on public roads and beaches. For example:

–  In early 2012, the Courtney Brothers Circus paraded 5 elephants down a small street in Cork,  Ireland with no safety measures put in place.

–  In December 2006 a circus magazine published a photograph of the Royal Russian Circus’ two elephants ‘assisting’ at a wedding. They are pictured next to the bride, groom and guests without any obvious safety barriers.

–  In November 2006, two elephants from the Royal Russian Circus were walked down roads in Carlow town. According to one witness the animals were petted by children, stepped into a fountain and walked amongst cars on the road. The circus had not alerted police or the local council to their stunt.

Carlow County Council’s Road Safety Officer told the press that he was “very, very concerned”. He told Freedom for Animals that, after hearing of the incident, he reported it “to all Senior Local Authority officials in Carlow County Council and Carlow Town Council.  The matter was reported to the Gardai who also monitored the circus during the remainder of its run in the area to prevent a repeat of the incident.

–  In October 2006, Circus Sydney took 5-ton elephant Kenya walking in a busy high street in Cork city centre, to promote the circus. A newspaper report shows a young child feeding an apple to Kenya.

The circus also used two elephants to lead a parade through Sligo in March 2006 (when performing as Circus Ozzz).

–  In July 2005, three elephants from Circus New York were pictured on the front page of the Irish Daily Star bathing in the sea at Tramore, County Waterford, a day after one of them seriously injured a circus worker. The caption stated that “a large crowd of holiday makers gathered to watch” and people are pictured in the sea behind the elephants.

–  In 2005, two photographs on the website of Tom Duffy’s Circus showed three elephants walking down what appeared to be a city or town centre street. No details of the publicity event are given but the circus was known to have three elephants in its show at the time. Although the pictures show that standard ‘crowd control’ barriers separated the public from the elephants, people can be seen leaning over to touch one of the animals.

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