By Jac Dowling
I don’t like zoos as a rule. Nor do I enjoy circus animal acts. In fact I am totally opposed to animals being used as objects of ridicule and display – elephants on tiny boxes, lions with trainers’ heads in their mouths … and the rest. So, it’s ages since any of us went to a circus, except those with no animal acts, like Cirque de Soleil, which I loved.
So it was with a certain degree of horror and sadness that we watched the unfolding story of floods in Georgia, and the plight of the escaped tigers, hippo, lions and the rest. The poor old hippo looked completely zonked, even before being darted and one hopes that he was rehoused in a warm and comfortable facility. Not much mention was made of the fate of the tiger who attacked a human – well he would wouldn’t he? He was starving. Anyway, tigers don’t belong in zoos, or circuses and definitely not in cages. They probably don’t make very good domestic pets either although I’ve heard of someone who has two pythons to guard his property. So far no disturbances have been reported!
Which brings me back to the reason for this blog. A circus, a ringmaster , a tiger and a small girl – all together under the big top at the same time. Clowns were busy keeping everyone amused, acrobats, jugglers and high-wire artistes jiggling and swinging and, in a corner, a group of chimps were fully occupied with their tea-party. It was exciting. Lights flashing, band at full volume and a lovely warm smell of sawdust and elephant droppings. A small girl, highly visible in bright red dungarees and yellow shoes, sat along the top row of seats with her parents, totally engrossed in what was going on in the ring.
The ringmaster bellowed, band stopped playing and did a drum roll instead, spectators fell silent as a large tiger padded into the ring, made several circuits to the crack of the whip, and lay down on a piece of canvas and surveyed her surroundings through dull and uninterested eyes.
‘Any little boy or girl who is feeling brave and would like to come into the ring and stroke our tiger, come now. It’s quite safe Mums and Dads.’
In a flash a red and yellow body hurled itself down through the crowd below, ran into the ring and curled up under the tiger’s chin. Totally unafraid. A deathly hush descended as the ringmaster hovered, an uncertain smile glued under his moustache. Tiger stretched, yawned, closed her eyes.
I shall never forget the sharp, rank smell of that old animal, the scratchy fur under her chin against my cheek, nor her total acceptance of me in her space. She deserved a gentle and peaceful retirement. I hope it was granted her.