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Circus beasts

Pic: Camille Gévaudan @khomille

Last weekend in Paris, a tiger escaped from a circus and was shot dead by its owner 5-10 minutes walk away from my parents' place. The picture of the dead animal was a precious visual that was shared around easily everywhere: the circus it escaped from had settled on the other side of France Télévisions (French public media network).

The kill immediately raised so many questions regarding the reasons why circus nowadays still have exotic/endangered animals in their show, and whether the animal could have been spared rather than killed. The investigation has started, but the owner claims that the 200 kg tiger (which was born and raised within the circus family) probably escaped because someone deliberately let it go free by cutting the locked doors.

True or not, no one on rush hour wants to go face-to-face with such a (possibly scared) beast, and the owner had to make a quick call and sacrifice his animal (I have heard circus owners are not mandated to have hypodermic needles which are too complex to manage in case of emergency).

All aspects made me mad. Irrespective of the intention or belief behind the gesture, if it is confirmed that someone intentionally opened the cage and let the animal walk free in a city, it is the dumbest of decisions: it condemned the tiger to death as chances would have been almost null to peacefully bring it back to its cage. At worst, someone could have been killed first.

Also, unlike many other European countries, France does not have a legislation forbidding exotic animals to be used and displaced for circus shows. The law provides a definition of what a domestic animal is vs. an exotic one, and it gives a framework covering the management, transport, safety, display etc of the animals; it does not however limit or forbid the selection of animals itself.


What does the Swiss law say?

Since 2015, the law toughened the rules of moving circuses by limiting the animals that can be moved around. For instance, rhinos, giraffes, great apes, lynxes, wolves, bears or penguins cannot be part of the shows anymore. Specific permits are required to own and display wild animals, and indoors and outdoors cages need to follow the same requirements as those implemented by zoos.

As it stopped by Zug a few weeks ago I checked what the Knie Cirkus had in place. In 1963 the Knies Kinderzoo opened its doors in Rapperswil to allow visitors of all ages to discover its exotic animals including its Asian elephants (now an endangered species). Since 2016 however the circus has stopped travelling and doing parades in the favour of a proper park providing them with appropriate habitat and space to thrive. A broad range of other animals can be seen, although both moving circus and Kinderzoo are closed until the season start in March 2018.

What do you think?

When I was a child I was mainly interested in animals, more than in the regular circus plays. Clowns make me nervous (!) and jugglers play with my nerves. But with time and education I've learned also how to leave exotic animals away from our entertainment plans: wild, endangered animals have nothing to do in cages, the same way that orcas or dolphins have to do in giant aquariums. But I also want to ensure that the domesticated ones are also treated properly and fairly. Hopefully what happens in Paris will never happen again.

Pic: Camille Gévaudan @khomille

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