Bostock's trained lions, 1903. Public Domain /

By Tom Dare

BIZARRE VIDEO and images showing exotic animals performing tricks for early 20th century circuses shed light on the barbaric treatment of wild animals at the turn of the century.

Footage from between 1910 and 1919 shows Jumbo, a baby elephant, lining up in a conga formation with a pony and a dog as his trainer looks on, while another shot shows him doing a handstand on stage.

Zora & Trilby, 1916. Public Domain /


And images from the era, some of which date back to the late 1800s, show animals including lions, tigers and leopards forced to perform in shows for the amusement of paying crowds.

The first documented use of animals in circuses was as far back as the early 18th century, though they were initially put on display for the public as opposed to performing for them.

The daring ride of Mrs. Eunice (Winkless) Padfield, July 4th 1905. Public Domain /


This began to change towards the middle of the 19th century, with the phasing-in of equestrian acts soon being followed by performances from several different types of wild animals, the most common of which was big cats and elephants. By the end of the 19th century most western circuses featured some form of animal entertainment act, with brutal training regimes often employed by circuses to make the animals compliant.

As such there has been much controversy surrounding the use of animals in circuses, particularly in recent years, with extreme animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) lobbying governments across the world to ban the use of wild animals in performances. A statement on their website reads:

Bostock’s trained animals, Lady & leopards, 1903. Public Domain /


“Animals aren’t actors, spectacles to imprison and gawk at, or circus clowns.

“Yet thousands of these animals are forced to perform silly, confusing tricks under the threat of physical punishment; are carted across the country in cramped and stuffy boxcars or semi-truck trailers; are kept chained or caged in barren, boring, and filthy enclosures; and are separated from their families and friends—all for the sake of human ‘entertainment.’

“Many of these animals even pay with their lives.”

Adgie and her Trained Lions, 1897. Public Domain /


In a response to growing public pressure regarding the welfare of circus animals, several governments have introduced laws either wholly or partially outlawing the use of animals in circuses.

These include the UK, Ireland, America, Sweden, Costa Rica, India, Finland, Singapore, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Poland, Slovenia, Bolivia, Colombia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Israel, Malta, Netherland, Denmark, Spain, Argentina, Austria, Chile, Brazil, Mexico and Canada.

Bostock’s trained animals, an affectionate bear, 1903. Public Domain /