The Circus Comes to Town

circusEarlier, we blogged about Sara Gruen’s book, Water for Elephants, and the fading way of life that is the circus.

This week, the Shrine Circus brought their sad show back to the dusty parking lot of the East York Town Centre, a mall in a low-income high-rise Toronto suburb.

Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” blared from a loudspeaker on top of the red Tarzan Zerbini Productions ticket trailer, festooned with circus posters and marquee lights.

The big top with its Can-Am flags had been raised, but you couldn’t get close. It was ringed with big rigs just like circled wagons. A carny at the souvenir booth warned “‘scuse me, ma’am, you can’t go back there.” Back there was where the Liberty horses, elephants and trick dogs were kept.


Our circus animals are spared the trials and dangers of fighting for survival in the wild. Studies have shown that elephants live longer traveling in circuses than they do in zoos or in the wild as they have a constant change of scenery that helps stimulate these intelligent animals.  The exercise that they get from performing and giving elephant rides keeps them physically healthy and improves their longevity.

big topJuly 23, 2002, Ontario: Canadian authorities quarantined and then deported at least 3 Tarzan Zerbini elephants after the USDA discovered that they had previously been exposed to a Tuberculosis positive elephant.

July 23, 2000 Halifax, Nova Scotia: The Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources forced Tarzan Zerbini to buy larger overnight cages after the circus was found to be in violation of provincial laws.

November 3, 1999 USA: The USDA cited Tarzan Zerbini for the third time in a year for an improperly maintained transport trailer. The floor that supports the elephants was sagging with spots rusted through.

November 1999 USA: Two elephants used by Tarzan Zerbini who had been exposed to other, tuberculosis-positive elephants were quarantined for testing.

circus elephants

May 4, 1999 USA: The USDA cited Tarzan Zerbini for failure to provide veterinary care to an elephant named Roxy with a swollen left front foot. The circus was also cited for failure to provide shade for the elephants and for improper food storage.

April 24, 1999 Duluth, Minnesota: A 27-year-old Tarzan Zerbini circus worker, who had been drinking, was hospitalized in serious condition after he was attacked by an elephant who had broken free of her shackles in Duluth, Minn., where the circus was performing for the Shriners. Another elephant trainer admitted that the elephants had been beaten badly by drunken trainers and were wary of people with alcohol on their breath. The trainer also commented, “There are probably more people killed and injured by elephants than by any other exotic animal.”

November 18, 1998 USA: The USDA cited Tarzan Zerbini for an improperly maintained elephant transport trailer.

August 19, 1998 Montreal: The Montreal Gazette reported that Jupiter, a white Bengal tiger, bore scars on his temples and hips.

circus horseDecember 8, 1994 USA: The USDA during a routine inspection, found Tarzan Zerbini non-compliant with the Animal Welfare Act for not having a program for veterinary care and animal transport vehicles in need of repair.

November 5, 1994 USA: The USDA found Tarzan Zerbini non-compliant with the Federal Animal Welfare Act for failing to have a program for veterinary care and no veterinary medical records. The circus also did not have records of acquisition and disposition of the animals.

September 14, 1990 Victoria, B.C.: The SPCA inspected the Tarzan Zerbini circus and noted the following: the majority of the horses had lacerations, abrasions or scars from old injuries. There was no food or water available for the tigers. The cages for the monkeys were extraordinarily small, not allowing the monkeys to stand on their hind legs.

We feel it is important that you respect these animals as wild creatures and join us in supporting conservation of all endangered wildlife.

The inspector was told by the circus that the monkeys and dogs are kept in the cages at all times, except for the show performances. No water was provided for the monkeys and dogs.

The inspector stated in her report, “this circus, where the animals did not have food or water available, where the animals were kept entirely in cages too small to allow the least bit of movement or comfort, and where it was impossible to find anyone to accept basic responsibility for the care of the animals was a prime example of everything that should not be allowed to occur in a circus”.

Excerpted from Tarzan-Zerbini Factsheet.


One response to “The Circus Comes to Town

  1. Just as with carriage horses in NYC, let us make sure there is sanctuary space and funding for care for these animals and let them live their lives in peace.

    Get that poor solo elephant out of Roy & Seigfried’s Las Vegas collection as well; poor beast, a social animal living alone.

    Who needs a circus anyway? Just watch the goings-on at Queen’s Park. Now, there’s a circus. With far too many clowns.

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