How do circuses treat lions

Behavioral biologist: The fairy tale of the great suffering of circus animals

The Federal Council demands the ban on wild animals in the circus - it is not possible to keep elephants, big cats or hippos in a species-appropriate manner. "That lacks any scientific basis," replies the Freiburg behavioral biologist Immanuel Birmelin.

World Online: Mr Birmelin, someone risked their life just because you wanted some lion spit. Was it really worth it?

Immanuel Birmelin: It was because various animal rights activists keep claiming that circus animals suffer, especially during transport. So my colleague and I went to Monaco to see Martin Lacey. He is the predator trainer from Circus Krone.

Lacey can put his lion in the mouth without worrying. He took the saliva samples for us, without anesthesia - and we then measured the stress hormone level. It was about the cortisol levels before, during and after an unusually long journey, in this case from Monaco to Munich. Actually an imposition. Usually a circus only makes 100 to 200 kilometers a day.

World Online: And?

Birmelin: A surprise: the lions were just as relaxed as their conspecifics in the Serengeti. The only one who was really stressed was her trainer Martin Lacey. In this whole discussion about the ban on wild animals in the circus, one thing is striking: that scientists usually have no problem with lions, tigers and elephants in the ring. Why also?

There is no basis for it, either in the wider scientific or in the narrower medical environment. But this does not detract from the discussion. The Cambridge biologist Sir Patrick Bateson, who, like me, deals intensively with circus animals, has examined on behalf of the British government whether the keeping of wild animals in the circus should be banned. His research group also came to the conclusion that there was no reason to do so.

One of the leading lion researchers, Craig Parker, found that the hormone levels of animals as well as their state of health are reflected in the body hair - the fittest animals can be recognized by their long, shiny mane. If Craig is right, the lions at Circus Krone are bursting with health. Anyone who claims that the circus means a life full of suffering for them simply does not know what they are talking about.

World Online: But against a modern zoo enclosure, such a predator cage in a circus looks like a prison cell.

Birmelin: That's what the animal rights activists say too. But most of them miss the most important thing by counting the square meters: They obviously think the animals are stupid. Like humans, animals also find the greatest happiness in what they experience.

The whole of neurobiology therefore speaks clearly in favor of the circus. Entertainment, learning, training - all of this is extremely important for animals. I watched Sonni Frankello from the Platschow Elephant Farm or the trainers from the Knie Circus - how they kept their elephants busy, entertaining them and getting them physically fit. In contrast, the elephants in the largest, most beautiful zoos in the world are pitiful creatures.

No matter how big an enclosure you can build - after a few days the elephants there will know every stick. The animals are bored to death. The circus has much more to offer them. Especially in winter. Zoo animals are locked in the barn at five in the afternoon - until eight in the morning. During this time there is still something going on in the circus.

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