Letter: Circus animals were always looked after

Letter: As a young boy in Birmingham, pre World War Two, I went to many circuses, which in those days always included animals.

Letter: As a young boy in Birmingham, pre World War Two, I went to many circuses, which in those days always included animals.

One of the most famous was Bertram Mills Circus, which used to travel around the UK by train.

Every conceivable animal – including elephants, lions, tigers, liberty horses, sea-lions, etc – together with clowns, trapeze artists, animal trainers and others, delighted their audiences.

All the animals were in beautiful condition and their performances brilliant.

After the war I worked for 44 years, both on farms and in agricultural education. I have been involved with all classes of livestock and I can honestly say that if you want to get the best from any animal, then you have got to think like that animal.

It might sound a bit far fetched to the uninitiated, but ask any stockman and they will agree.

It would be a shame for children in the future if they were denied the enjoyment of a circus without animals.

Today, equestrian events, agricultural shows, dog shows, sheep dog trials, sea life centres, etc, all show how animals can be trained to enjoy carrying out extraordinary feats, which the general public enjoy and support.

Keith Iddles


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Comments for: "Letter: Circus animals were always looked after"


What a load of twaddle Keith.

You can take the animal out of the wild, but you cannot take the wild out of the animal.

Whilst I agree that many enjoy watching animals in the circus, it is a totally unnatural environment for said animals. Locked in small cages all day, and brought out to perform alien acts for an hour at night. Perhaps you would like to try living like that for a year or so, see how you cope with it.

You may well have worked with a variety of DOMESTIC livestock in your life, but there is no comparison between your herd of cows etc. and a pride of lions or half a dozen elephants.

Circus animals are, happily, finished, and not before time.

The Original Jake

"You can take the animal out of the wild, but you cannot take the wild out of the animal."

Indeed. Just ask Roy Horn about that.


Colin D, what is wild about an animal that is bred in captivity? These animals have not seen anything of the wild for generations therefore your argument is completely invalid. If circus owners were actually going out to Africa or India and capturing wild Lions, Tigers etc. then it would obviously be a different issue. This would clearly raise some questions on the grounds of animal welfare but seeing as how this is not at all the case and the animals have been bred in captivity for decades, I see no problem here. The government see no issue with equestrian events and other such animal related activities whereby when not "performing" so to speak, the animals are kept "boxed." It is just the image of a wild Tiger or a wild Elephant that people like yourself are overlapping with that of circus animals. It is vital before attacking circuses that you get it clear in your mind that these are two very separate animals, a wild tiger and a circus tiger. After all, you don't look at families walking their pet dogs and go and lecture them on how their pets should be living in the wild like wolves. Or perhaps you do..

The Original Jake

You might have missed my comment about Roy Horn.

His seven year old white tiger, Montecore, was born and raised in captivity and trained by Horn from a cub. During a performance on stage at The Mirage in Las Vegas, Horn was bitten on the neck by Montecore and sustained serious and life-threatening injuries.

The tiger's behaviour was instinctive and was reported to be the same as a mother tiger protecting its cub from danger.

As Colin said, you can take the animal out of the wild but you can't take the wild out of the animal.

A rather dubious experiment that took place over tens of years in Russia demonstrated the domestication of wild animals. Wild silver foxes were reared in captivity and the ones with the least aggressive traits were selected for further breeding. Over many generations this process continued and the result was that successive selective breeding produced docile animals which could be tamed and domesticated. This goes a long way to demonstrate that simply rearing an animal in captivity does not suppress its natural instinctive behaviour and a domesticated animal is a VERY different beast from its wild ancestors.


You seem to be contradicting yourself in the points you made there. You followed up your statement of "you can take the animal out of the wild but you can’t take the wild out of the animal." by describing an experiment that proves that wild animals can be domesticated through captive breeding. I completely agree with your point that a domesticated animal is VERY different to it's wild ancestors...in fact that was probably the main point of my statement. I also agree that rearing a WILD animal in captivity would not suppress natural instinctive behavior. This point has little relevance to the animals working in circuses today as, once again, these are not wild animals.

Bringing up the case of Roy Horn is also a little confusing as after a full investigation there was no evidence to suggest any reason why the tiger would have attacked Horn.

The Original Jake

[in reply to Patrick, but the nesting's reached its limit]

My point was that it takes MANY iterations of SELECTIVE breeding to domesticate wild animals. It cannot be achieved within a few generations, which is where most circus animals sit. Domestication isn't achieved through nurture; it's the result of a series of fundamental genetic changes.

The Roy Horn reference is very relevant. Since no explanation could be given for the tiger's behaviour, it clearly wasn't safe for it to be on stage in the first place.

eva land

[Locked in small cages all day, and brought out to perform alien acts for an hour at night. Perhaps you would like to try living like that for a year or so, see how you cope with it.]

Sounds like a normal day for a majority of people Colin.

We go to work to perform, what's natural about that?

Keiths point, and I think he is speaking from personal experience, is that the animals were well cared for.

What difference is there to the act of having a pet for example?

I recently visited Chester Zoo and much as we use zoos to study and try to protect endangered species I saw animals that were frustrated and bored.

(That was just the visitors!)


What nonsense! We dont go to work to "perform", if so, who's the audience? We go to work because in this upside down world we live in, we need money to survive. We have a choice where work is concerned (most of the time). Circus animals have been used and abused for centuries with no choice and it is only now that we appear to be opening our eyes to this!


Seriously Eva, you can't see any difference between the needs of a pet dog for example, and those of elephants, lions, tigers, liberty horses, sea-lions, etc?

And you can't see any potential welfare problems with shipping these creatures around the country and forcing them to perform mindless 'acts' for a mindless audience? Acts which they are compelled to perform by use of force or threat, constraint, coercion, or fear.

And this is your point of view because you think it's just like going to work? Seriously?!


Well Eva, you are on form again, another ridiculous post.

As Andy said, we work because we have to to survive. As for these creatures being born in captivity, maybe they were, but their natural instincts are still there. In many big cities, you can see dogs that have been abandoned. What do they do, sit and mope??? NO, they pack, just as they do in the wild, their natural instinct.

Zoos are as bad, maybe worse, as the animals get no variation in their daily routine. They just amble round their cages whilst the brain dead stand and gawp at them. Maybe you should spend a few months in a zoo cage Eva, might give you a bit more insight than you have at the moment, which appears to be zero.

As for horses being boxed when not being ridden, well, get out and about a bit Patrick. There was a stable at Hardwick, and when the horses were not being ridden, or boxed for protection against the weather, they could be seen roaming around fields, plenty of room to stretch. This is a common sight in the country. Any horse kept boxed until needed for a show event would be virtually useless due to lack of exercise.

Finally, psychological damage. There was a case a few years ago of a zoo being closed down. One of the captive tigers was taken by a well known safari park, and released into 20 acres of near natural habitat. For MONTHS, that animal paced a 12ft rectangle, the size of it's previous cage. If that is acceptable in anyone's eyes then I despair.


Out and about abit? I can assure you I am very well acquainted with the set up and requirements for equestrian events! Once again we have this misconception that circus animals are forced to LIVE in tiny cages. This is not the case at all. Certainly in the case of the Great British Circus, the animal's welfare is paramount and there are no grounds for concern on this subject. In fact, Martin Lacey recently invited MP's who voted against circuses like his to come and view his set up behind the scenes: an invitation that was very rudely and foolishly refused by MP Bob Russell. I must admit that in many big cities, I see more stray dogs sitting and moping than I do roaming the streets in large packs and hunting down larger animals as your statement would suggest. The main issue people have here is with the fact that these are species which are most commonly found in the wild. People do not have an issue with training a dog to sit - why then a problem with animals in circuses? They are well looked after, loved and cared for. They are domestic animals and have never been wild. Also, they clearly enjoy what they do: I believe it was Martin Lacey who said "Even I am not stupid enough to try to make a Tiger do something it doesn't want to do."


"Certainly in the case of the Great British Circus, the animal’s welfare is paramount"

Total rubbish Patrick. I invite anyone in doubt to check out the following link which shows exactly the standards of the Great British Circus.


During an undercover investigation:

"... hidden camera revealed that in fact the elephants spent most of their time in a small pen in a tent and every night the animals were chained by a front and a back leg – barely able to take one step back and forwards. Night vision filming showed the elephants able to shuffle a pace forwards or to stand or lie down. Our film shows these chains being removed in the morning and taken away."

"We also caught on film a staggering level of casual violence. Elephants were brutally hit in the face with a metal elephant hook, a broom and a pitchfork; a worker cruelly twisted an elephant’s tail. The frightened animals backed away and cried out when they were hit, or hooked"

Charlie Drake

Get over it. They are only animals !!

The Original Jake

Hostages are generally well looked after, but I don't imagine any of them enjoy the experience.


Animals should be in their own natural environment and not be used to make money. Close all Circuses and zoos that keep animals in cages.


You do know that zoos do a massive amount of conservation work don't you?

They are not similar to circuses.


Keith, what planet are you from? Have you read how Mary Chipperfield treated her animals? (a good beating apparently did the trick), or the recent news footage of an elephant beaten whilst it's foot was chained so it could not go anywhere? you need a reality check and open your eyes as to how animals in circuses are "trained". I have three children and if there is a circus in town, they do not go if animals are involved. Colin.D, every word you say is correct.

Rob, Telford

"Keith, what planet are you from?"

....obviously one where people don't think it's cruel to transport sea lions around the country, where the most wanton cruelty is OK as long as it's for the enjoyment of children (I'm sure a lot of the bloodthirsty little monsters would enjoy a nice cockfight or a spot of bull-baiting).

Then again, livestock farming, of which he claims many years experience, is hardly renowned for high standards of animal welfare - battery hens, farrowing crates and intensive dairy units are just of the areas that leave much to be desired.

eva land

I suppose we can all call Keith blind and stupid but he was there not us.

I don't agree with any animal cruelty, human either but Keith's point was that he was there and they were well cared for.

[What nonsense! We dont go to work to “perform”, if so, who’s the audience?]

You do not have much experience of management spiel then Andy! :)

[Seriously Eva, you can’t see any difference between the needs of a pet dog for example, and those of elephants, lions, tigers, liberty horses, sea-lions, etc?]

All of those creatures can be euthanised legally as can dogs. Not humans yet but one way W/E tickets to Switzerland may be on your kids agenda in the not too distant future,I suppose!


Were you trying to say something here eva?? If so you failed miserably.

100 lines and re-present.


No, I don't have much experience of "management spiel" (aka nonsense) Eva. I have a much more fullfilling job, thank you very much!

eva land

Sorry Colin bit too erudite for you maybe?


Wow, so many over-opinionated yet under-educated commenters! 'Patrick' especially seems like one of the country-toff 'elite' who concluded that all of nature has no purpose other than to amuse him, feed him or to be in the crosshairs of his rifle. As someone who has actually grown up in a rural environment, surrounded by wildlife and has since gained high calibre academic qualifications in the biological sciences and gone onto work within this field, I can authoritativly let you know that:

(1) Comparisons between domestic dogs and captive elephants are embarassinly short sighted. Dogs have been domesticated for c. 15 000 yrs and have been SELECTIVELY bred for a number of desired traits. This to the point where most are unrecognisable from their wolf ancestors. This IS NOT TRAINING, it is physically changing the species over time. The same cannot be said for lions, tigers, elephants etc, and is why you can take your dogs on the train, but can't cuddle a hyaena at Longleat.

(2) Since the vast majority of circus animals are essentially still wild animals (i.e. very few generations, if any, from actually wild animals), they are clearly unsuited to the lives in which they are kept. Ask anyone (actually qualified to comment with authority) and they will give the same answer. End of story.

(3) Most Zoo's carry out vitally important captive breeding programs and research that is of huge benefit to the scientific community and to the future of a huge number of ecosystems and species. However this work is expensive, and in order to fund it, these species (-alongside other, less threatened species) are put on display for the public. Without this income, organisations such as ZSL (and many others) would not be able to carry out the great work that they do. Obviously this is not an ideal scenario, but it's the best we've got at present.

(4) From points 2 and 3 we can see that Circuses and Zoo's are very different things. The former serves only to entertain humans, at the animals expense, whilst the latter allows vital scientific work to be carried out, whilst also actually educating the public.

atcham jack

and how many breeds of animals have been saved from extinction by zoos.

yes in the 1950's i was taken to bertram mills and other circuses, but we have grown up and i would not go anywhere near a circus with wild animals performing

it is time people turned their disaproval to bull fighting in spain

Jayne Oliver

Banning circus animals is the best thing Mark Pritchard has ever done. It's a shame he doesn't feel the same way about foxhunting, which he says he supports for the fox's sake.