30. September 2021

The African female circus elephant, named BUBA, probably witnessed the killing of her mother and of most of the other adult family members of her clan during a culling operation of wild elephants in Zimbabwe 40 years ago. At about 5 years of age this elephant, together with the other elephant babies of her clan had barely begun the process of learning the many complex skills to become the kind iconic, sentient, intelligent, mysterious, emotional, emphatic and social creature of an adult wild African elephant. Transferred to Europe and trained to perform for 10 years in different European circuses, she was acquired some 30 years ago by the Freiwald Family Circus.

Baby elephant typical “training” for a life of circus work

This initial experience of being torn from her family would remain engraved in her outstanding memory. As breeding elephants in captivity has turned out to be a colossal failure, baby elephants are still taken from the wild to be sold into slavery to circuses and zoos, thereby contributing to the demise of this endangered species. Free elephants in their natural habitat are amazing creatures, and we we are only beginning to grasp that we have much to learn from them.

The Dutch government ban of 2015, to disallow wild animals performing in circuses, gave the Freiwald Family Circus a number of years to find a suitable venue for retiring the last Dutch circus elephant. Subsequently, a petition, with 40,000 signatures  was submitted to the Dutch government, requesting to move Buba to the only European  Elephant Sanctuary located in a beautiful 70 ha national park in France. The Dutch minister of Agriculture, Carola Schouten, appeared to agree to transfer the elephant to the sanctuary by the end of 2020.

Nederland Zaandam aug. 2018. Circus in Zaandam. Olifant Buba in het Burgemeester in t Veldpark. Foto : ANP/ HH / Berlinda van Dam

The Freiwalds appealed, claiming that Buba is part of their family, and taking her away from the family would make her homesick.  They also did not hesitate to falsely portray sanctuaries as under-financed without any real knowledge about elephants. As a result the Minister turned to the Dutch parliament to take a final decision. 1)

A few “patriotic” MPs had no difficulties convincing the majority to stop the “deportation” of the last Dutch circus elephant to a sanctuary in France, allowing the Freiwalds to keep the elephant.

Most likely, The Freiwald family will be forced to sell Buba to a German circus or zoo (Buba was originally registered in Germany anyhow) or any other country where circus performances of wild animals have not been banned. She will thus disappear, or be “deported”, by Holland anyway, and runs the risk of being cruelly exploited for the rest of her life. If you have the slightest doubt about the misery of elephants in European circuses, extensive studies by the European Elephant Group will convince the objective reader that Buba should be immediately transferred to an appropriate sanctuary.  2)

African Elephants at the Performing Animals Welfare Society sanctuary. Photo credit: PAWS

1) Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) :  sanctuaryfederation.org

2) Top international biologists and planners call for an end to elephants in captivity, conference in Hermanus on September 6, 2019. : https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-09-10-top-international-biologists…