Maedi Video: Why Elephants Don’t Belong in a Circus


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Elephants are wild animals, and the demands of circus life are bad for their health. Image by johnnyberg

Elephants are wild animals, and the demands of circus life are bad for their health. Image by johnnyberg

Why Elephants Don’t Belong in the Circus

Events like this bring to light the difficulties of circus animals, in particular wild animals. To the untrained eye, elephants may appear comfortable in a circus environment. Cases of aggression are rare, and most animals just stay in the small space available. In reality, this is a sign of constant stress as a result of not being able to express natural behavior. Just being around humans can stress these (mostly) gentle giants.

Elephants are social animals. Females and young form a complex matriarchal society, where communication by touch is essential. In the wild, these animals are made for walking and can roam for more than 20 km a day to find a snack and a shade.

None of these normal activities are available when in captivity in a circus, and stress hormones can reach sky-high levels as a result. This may have serious health consequences, including heart failure and high mortality rates.

Also unnatural are the tricks many elephants are forced to perform. An example is standing on the back or front legs. In the wild, only males have the strength to hold their weight during mating, and only for a short period; females never attempt this feat. If Maedi had to carry out this routine during her circus life, this may have contributed to her joint problems. Even tricks that may appear simple, such as using the trunk to hold on or shaking the head, can cause nerve damage and trunk paralysis.

In short, elephants don’t belong in a circus.

Circus Animals: The Future

The harsh reality is that evading legal requirements and regulations is easy, as authorities find it difficult to monitor what animals travelling circuses are keeping. Some countries, particularly in Europe, found a simple solution to the problem – a complete ban on wild animals in circus. However, other countries are still lagging behind and many institutions, including Pro Wild Life and PETA, continue their battle to achieve a worldwide ban.  Whichever animal it is, tiger, zebra or elephant, a wild animal belongs in the wild- for their health’s sake.


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Alfred R, Ahmad AH,  Payne J, Williams C, Ambu LN, How PM, Goossens B. Home Range and Ranging Behaviour of Bornean Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) Females. PLoS One. 2012; 7(2): e31400. Accessed July 1, 2013.

de Silva S, Ranjeewa A, Kryazhimskiy S. The dynamics of social networks among female Asian elephants. BMC Ecol. 2011; 11: 17

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