Circuses are no fun for animals ~ A lesson in gentle relations

photos by Phat Teddy

I literally gasped aloud when I saw that first dreadful stack of blue and white “admit one child for free” coupons announcing the circus will soon be marching back into town. Of course this circus is the horrid kind with animals in chains and cages. This is just one of those things I don’t think I’ll ever understand — ever.

Last year I pulled out my soap box. I shared all their dirty little secrets — although not so secretive once the abuse/convictions hit public record . I even handed out the most precious “animal friendly” stickers. I posted undercover films that showed the true “behind the scenes” footage of the big top.

This year I immediately thought of my friend, Tonya Kay, and her heartwarming story of her personal and most compassionate time spent with elephants in Thailand.I knew if circus admirers could hear her story they’d never again “enjoy” animal “entertainment” that was forced by bullhooks, electric prods, and whips.
In reality, circus animals spend most of their life out of the spotlight and in not-so-glamorous cages, often filthy and surrounded by their own excrements.

Perhaps we’ve gotten so far from our roots that we don’t even realize the disrespect and injustice required to make an animal perform unnatural acts under bright lights in front of large crowds of noisy people. Do parents really think this resonates peacefully within their children that observe?

Tonya Kay has touched and loved and bathed an elephant. She has seen them doing what elephants are supposed to do. The two realities are like night and day difference. What she experienced with animals in the wild completely clashes with the man driven confinement and abuse of the life of circus animals. So here her story goes…

Elephant-lover, Tonya Kay, is a professional performer that has wowed many crowds with her fire-spinning, knife-throwing, and whip-master skills. She firmly believes that circus’ are much livelier with human entertainers that willingly and delightfully perform.

In August of 2008, Kay volunteered at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. She says the experience has left her a changed woman.

“It was life changing. Perspective changing. Spirit changing. Soul changing. The elephants can’t help it,” she exclaimed. 

“Without even seeing them, you sense them. Six tons of isolated consciousness, breathing, focusing, feeling — on the grandest scale of all. Elephants exert a gravitational pull they are so massive. Like little Earths on Earth. Even sleeping over 100 yards away, their presence comforts.

A forced meditation for all that surround them. A lesson in patience just to contemplate them. A lesson in gentle relations. A lesson in finely directed intelligence.”


“To be near an elephant, these things are unavoidable. They change anyone who comes into close, compassionate contact with them. They change the world we walk on. Even children whom have never seen an elephant in real life, I am convinced, are affected by elephants living somewhere on this Earth. It is my goal to make sure this endangered species exists in this world,” she says passionately.

Kay says her most favorite part about the village’s countryside was night time.
“My room was a hut and it was made of bamboo. Surely volunteers like myself had built it no more than two years ago. I know because we volunteers were replacing fence constructed of the same bamboo as part of our work/stay program.
The monsoon season, which we all surrendered sloppily into, really speeds up the life process. Things never dry out and the spider that considered my hut to be his — and was probably right — was larger than my outstretched hand and housed uncomfortably close no matter where in the room.” Kay recalls.

“My hut was the best. It stood on poles to slow the floor’s rot on the always-wet ground. It had two windows — rather than the other rooms’ one — neither of which had screens or anything factory-made or expensive like that,” she continued.

“So it was me, arachno-dude, and within 50 feet just outside of my two windows; eleven elephants all night long,” she exclaims.

“What does an elephant do at night? They chomp big time on the corn stalks we cut in the fields for 5 hours a day — face to the earth and back to the sky. They chomp three at a time for hours, sounding like boards snapping and bones cracking, but no — they are vegetarian like me. Wait — they are raw vegan like me. Elephants eat 300 pounds of raw vegan food every day,” she explains.

Kay continues, “Elephant calves play at night. They hug and tug one another. They practice gentle sparring. And sometimes they get startled by the unseen, like any baby would — maybe a mouse runs behind their feet or something — and they chirp like big birds, kind of squawking and causing a nervous commotion. Until the auntie blasts one resounding trumpet. And they shut up real quick like. When an elephant momma speaks …”

“You can’t see elephants at night. I don’t know how they do it, but the largest land mammal on earth really can just disappear — kind of becomes invisible. Like a shadow — no, a black hole,” Kay explains. “Any light that would be in the area of a night elephant is sucked in towards it with no hope of escaping. The elephant is what is dark and the only way you know an elephant is there is a kind of vibration in the air and a few gentle sounds. I listened to them all night long.”

Kay describes herself as an insomniac and says she is a very light sleeper. “While in Hollywood, I close my windows and turn on the fan and sometimes even wear ear plugs. But I didn’t wear earplugs in Thailand with the elephants. I didn’t cover my ears with anything more than a mosquito net.

Instead, the sounds of the elephants no matter what they were tasking lulled me into an in between world. They drop the grass on the ground, I fall to the ground. They sigh, I am exhaled as moisture into the air. They snore, one long, everlasting lung full of air and I believe I can hear the earth sleeping. Yes, even elephants sleep. I know they do.”

“Unless one was inclined to listen all night, one may never know. For only four hours every night, the sleeping sounds do inebriate. And I was alone, lulled and listening one night, I had to see it to prove it. So I wandered without flashlight as close as I could — maybe ten feet away — and I saw what I needed to see.

Elephants really do lie down to sleep when they feel safe. And they snore an elephant’s snore — the sound of everything all is right in the world.” To learnmore about Tonya Kay and her time spent with thes eelephant beauties pleasevisither website at

Digital Ink: Article Repinted from The Albany Journal, Circus is no fun for animals ~ A lesson in gentle relations by Kristen Taylor, Sept 10, 2009.


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