Old McDonald Could've Had a Circus
As noted earlier, circus animals haven't always been strange creatures from far-away lands. In fact, we still see shows today that showcase much more traditional creatures. Equestrian performances are still staple circus acts and let's not forget the amazing Acro-Cats that you can still see touring today. While we might pause at the thought of trained cats, it turns out that there's a long tradition there: One clown in the early 19th century had an act where cats pulled him obediently around in a cart [source: Speaight]. Take that, lions.
But it wasn't just entirely domesticated animals that worked early circus days. Pigs were big-time circus heavyweights, and had shown up in shows since the 18th century [source: Speaight]. Bulls and cows also graced the ring, but apparently they just don't have a lot of capacity for tricks — perhaps unsurprising, if you've ever attempted a meaningful interaction with a cow. In any case, farm animals doing small tricks became a bit boring for audiences, who wanted the razzle-dazzle of the glitzy circus animals we see today.