Health and safety in Irish animal circuses

– Part 3

Royal Russian Circus

Elephant Maya was used in the interval for children to have their photo taken with her. Those sitting on the crook of her front leg were, in the words of vet Samantha Lindley: “within easy reach of her trunk, which swept around from time to time and she could easily have risen with a child on her back. For the most part her handler was at some distance taking photographs. On the one hand, the degree of trust they have in this animal is touching, on the other it is irresponsible to a high degree to allow children such contact with a large wild animal because of the risk of unpredictable and dangerous behaviour.”

Vet Samantha Lindley: “Maya also has to walk across a series of pedestals in a straight line. This is a highly unnatural act and is obviously quite difficult to do. If Maya misses her footing during the act or the practice it could have disastrous consequences such as falling onto someone in the ring.”

“Outside enclosures: the elephants have clearly been trained to the visual signal of an electric fence. However, when we visited the current appeared not to be switched on. The few strands of wire surrounding the elephant enclosure will fool the animals for a while, but they will only need to brush it once or twice and not get a shock to learn that the current is only there sometimes. They could then walk through this barrier without even noticing. Children spent fifteen minutes crowding around the fence, feeding the elephants, leaning across and through the fence and at one point Maya had her trunk over the fence amongst three toddlers. Only after about twenty minutes did the worker overseeing the elephants start to move them away and discourage further feeding. This all went off safely, and there were no signs that the elephant was distressed by the situation, but nevertheless, in allowing the public such contact with such an animal there is always a risk of a dangerous incident occurring.”

Circus Sydney

During our first visit to the circus, children went in to see and touch the elephants while they were chained in a tent next to the box office after the show. There was no circus staff supervising the elephants and no barrier to prevent public access or signs warning people to keep away. Although the elephants were both chained by a front and back leg, people were still at risk of injury if hit by the elephants’ trunks or the tusks of the male.

After the performance on our second visit the elephants were in the outdoor tent surrounded by electric wire.

Vet Samantha Lindley: “the circus was packing up and the fence was released despite the fact that numerous members of the public were no more than ten feet away. Kenya [the younger and smaller of the two elephants] decided to head off in the opposite direction to the calls of the young man in charge. Eventually she was restrained and guided round to the lorry by the other young keeper, but she was reluctant to get in, although the male was already in. It was highly irresponsible to drop the fence with the public, especially young children, around.”

Circus Vegas

After the show, the elephants were in a grassed area surrounded by a line of electric fence wire.

Vet Samantha Lindley: “It was not clear as to whether the electric fences [surrounding the elephant and hippo enclosures] were live, but if they were, there were no warning signs to protect the public from an electric shock. Whilst animals will mostly respect electric fencing, they can still walk or run through it when aroused.

“If they were not electrified, then there was nothing protecting the public but a fragile conditioning of the animals to the sight of white tape.”

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