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Circus World: A History of Exploitation and Abuse

CWI recently visited Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Our goal was to perform a welfare check on the animals forced to perform in the daily circus events held there. We accomplished that goal, and also came away with so much more.

Circus World is housed on the former Winter Quarters of Ringling Brothers Circus. The current incarnation is both a museum and a place for entertainment acts including a full circus performing twice daily, which includes an elephant act. A tiger act is performed separately from the main circus and also takes place twice per day.

This year, Circus World is using Hanneford Circus and makes use of elephants Lisa, Tracy, and Becky, who are "owned" by notorious animal abusers Carson and Barnes. The tigers are on property with Ryan Easley of ShowMe Tigers.

On the day we visited, temperatures were in excess of 90 degrees with high humidity. The animals (and human visitors!) were bothered by the heat. The tigers were reluctant to perform and were without wading pools, though we were told "they were in the works." As seen below, the tigers were panting and doing everything they could to cool down.

Between shows, elephants Lisa, Tracy, and Becky were forced to give rides.

At one point in the day they were allowed to be "off duty". Tracy, Lisa, and Becky did their best to keep cool in the hot and humid conditions. But ultimately it was time to get back to work giving rides and doing stupid circus tricks. Watch:

Circus World isn't just about their live performing animal acts. They also glamorize the world of the circus from years past. They have numerous exhibits dedicated to showing animal abuse as if it was somehow normal or acceptable.

For instance, they have a whole building of carriages that used to contain animals who were forced to live their lives in cages and being hauled around for gawking visitors.

And a massive exhibit dedicated to Gargantua, an unfortunate gorilla who was treated as a sideshow without any dignity or quality of life.

They also had a large exhibit dedicated to Jumbo, an African elephant who unfortunately found himself confined to circus life in the 1880s. After just three years on the road, earning Barnum and Bailey's Circus millions of dollars, Jumbo died when he was being led back to his car and was struck and killed as he crossed a train track.

We have more to share about Circus World and what we found there, but we'll leave you with this image and ask: what does this building remind you of? See the photo beneath it to find out what role it played in the history of animal abuse.

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