Health and safety in Irish animal circuses

– Part 4 (Other animals)

Royal Russian Circus

The giraffe posed a risk both inside the ring and in her outdoor pen. In the ring she took bread out of the mouth of a boy from the audience who was physically prevented from moving back by the giraffe’s handler putting his hand on the boy’s neck. The giraffe was also encouraged to lean over into the ringside audience to take bread from people.

Outside, children and other visitors were feeding and touching her through the bars, without supervision and without being encouraged to wash their hands.

Circus Sydney

Vet Samantha Lindley: “The ostrich, a bird which is potentially aggressive when aroused, is loose in the ring … Its ‘trick’ is to lie flat on the ground. This is the natural behaviour of the threatened ostrich and would hardly need much reinforcing. These animals can deliver a powerful kick in self defence and, whilst their natural instinct is to run away, in the confined space of the ring this animal cannot do so.”

The ‘stallion’ act already referred to posed a risk to public safety as the trainer / performer was clearly unable to retain control over the horses.

Samantha Lindley: “This is an appalling accident waiting to happen and those in the ringside seats were particularly vulnerable had a horse gone crashing into the ringside barrier. There was obvious aggression, tension and fear amongst all the horses, but most particularly from the middle black and the rear grey. Horses do not like being in such close proximity to each other without choice and are likely to bite, kick, rear or buck. The black bucked and reared repeatedly. At the end of the performance two of the greys broke free and ran around the back of the front row and had to be retrieved. During the performance the horses had to be controlled with the whip by the performer and by someone in the background. This was a dangerous display which caused distress and fear to the animals, as well as putting the audience in danger.”

Circus Vegas

Given that the rhino at Circus Vegas weighs 2.5 tons and the hippo 3 tons, there are obvious risks to safety of public and staff.

Vet Samantha Lindley: “Hippos are notoriously dangerous (they are known as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa) … The ‘barrier’ used to herd the hippo into the ring and presumably stop it escaping, consisted of a wooden gate of approximately one and a half metres by one and a half metres and a podium tipped up against various other bits of circus flotsam. Either side was policed by a couple of staff. None of these measures would stop a hippo walking, let alone charging in the wrong direction.”

“Similar comments apply to the rhino, but one should also bear in mind that rhinos have extremely sensitive olfactory (smell) sense and poor eyesight. The overwhelming noise, flashing lights and competing smells will have been alarming to this animal.”

For a payment of one euro, audience members could go behind the scenes to see the animals in their housing areas.

The use of common hippos and rhinos is even seen as unacceptable by some sections of the circus industry. The Association of Circus Proprietors, a British trade organisation, state in their 2001 document ‘Standards for the Care and Welfare of Circus Animals on Tour’: “No other species of ungulate [hoofed mammal] is acceptable especially (for health and safety reasons) ungulates such as the rhinoceros or common hippopotamus.”

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