10 Facts About Circus Animals

Hip Hip Hippodrama
Queen Victoria enjoyed watched horses like Black Eagle perform the waltz, the polka, imitate camels and stand erect on their hind legs. Three Lions/Stringer

When you're turning up your nose at the low-brow circus animals you see performing for peanuts, perhaps you should keep in mind the rather grandiose beginnings of our animal actors. It wasn't the circus that made a lot of animals "famous"; instead, the animals were already stars on stage, and the circus promoters took advantage of their popularity.

Even horses — the original circus animals — were actually gaining an audience in the 19th century through hippodrama. Hippodrama was a curious blend of theatre and horsemanship. Essentially, the play revolved around either a horse or horses performing as part of the action and they proved quite popular with folks wanting to see, say, the story of a bandit galloping about on horseback [source: Speaight]. Later on, other trainable animals — like lions — were used in productions, which whetted the public's appetite for exotic creatures. Queen Victoria saw a performance of "Charlemagne" seven times, where the showstopper featured a lion and panther performing together [source: Speaight].

But enough of these mysterious beasts that populate the circus in our own time. Let's take a look at some circus animals that never quite lived up to a fearsome reputation but were quite popular: the animals we might see in our own home or out on the farm.

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