Circus monkey escapee prompts debate about exotic animals under the Big Top



It is a scene from a byegone era. A big top tent, lions walking along planks, a performing monkey (rhesus macaque) riding on a miniature horse and camels doing a turn. But this picture is from Sydney today, as Lennon Brothers circus animals perform. Animal Liberation NSW planned a peaceful protest at the circus on Saturday.The organisation's Facebook page states: "Although many councils have banned the use of animals for performance on public land, The Hills Shire Council has not which is why we would love to support a statewide ban on all performing animals in circuses."


The circus was in the news last week when Livvie the monkey had a brief taste of freedom. She escaped and took to a tree in Arncliffe before quietly returning with the offer of food. Her adventure prompted a letter from Rosemary Elliott, secretary of Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics. "Wild animals kept in circuses are exposed to inhumane training methods, cramped, isolated living conditions and are unable to perform many natural behaviours. Why are we allowing these anachronistic shows to continue?," she wrote.


Georgie Lennon, sixth generation in the Lennon Brothers dynasty, is ringmistress, high trapeze artist and media liaison officer. She has heard the debate before and welcomed Fairfax Media to see the circus-bred animals. "Our animals are on display throughout the day,'' Ms Lennon said. "Come and see how well cared for they are. Watch the performance and you can see what methods we use to train them. These animals are a part of our family. Our exhibits [enclosures] are sometimes double the size of exhibited animals regulations. They are not cramped, they are comfortable. If they weren't happy they wouldn't perform."None of them have stressed beha viour that people have that prejudice about that animal liberationists print up in their fliers. Ninety per cent of the stuff in their fliers is photos from the 1960s or overseas."



Lion trainer (not tamer) Mohammed Jratlou said his animals were well treated. "We treat them with respect, a lion will always be a lion. They are wild animals," he said. Asked if they were ever punished, he added: "How can I punish this animal? He will punish you before you punish him. I don't have a whip. In the 60s it was different."



The lions in the show walk from one pedestal across a plank and backwards. Kiara, a lioness, jumps up on the plank. Maizey, another lioness, smiles to everyone and Kovu (the male) roars loudly.


Livvie's companion Bubbles rides around on the pony, looks pretty, does a bit of a wave then comes outside, Ms Lennon said. 


The use of animals in circuses in NSW is regulated under the Exhibited Animals Protection Act 1986, administered by the Department of Primary Industries. The act covers animal housing, transport, performance and training, animal dignity and public safety. If anyone sees something they think is cruel then the RSPCA can carry out an inspection. Lennons says they haven't seen anyone from the RSPCA for five years. After that it is up to individual councils to decide if they want to allow a circus with animals to use its land. According to the data from Animal Liberation NSW there is a wide diversity of opinion. Exotic animals are banned in the Blue Mountains, Byron Shire and Lake Macquarie. Mosman has no circuses, Marrickville and Leichhardt have no policy. In Gosford a motion to ban circuses was lost last year. In Parramatta the issue flared up in council last week.


Bolivia, Peru and Greece all say no to animals. Mexico City banned their use this month. Cork County Council in Ireland banned their use in June. The UK government has announced its intention to ban wild animals but it hasn't happened yet.


Dr Elliott said: "These animals can develop a range of behavioural problems. They seem to be going on along all right then suddenly it's in the paper that the lion has attacked the handler or a monkey has escaped and bitten someone.

"They haven't had years of domestication likes dogs or horses. The issue is the confinement. They are transported quite a lot, that exposes them to heat stress and fighting and they can't relate socially the way they are meant to. We have no way of knowing  what is going on behind the scenes."


Ms Lennon responded: "I dread the day if people decide as one that they don't want circuses with animals. It's traditional circus. These animals are the integral part of this show and for children to miss out on that, it will be a sad day."

Read more: