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Baba is gaining support and attention

A petition campaign demanding freedom for Baba has passed 4.000 signatures and is signed by people from countries across the world. In western Norway where Baba now is travelling with the Cirkus Merano, there is political action to bring attention to her situation.


The petition campaign was started Victoria Ivansdatter Udnæs from Norway as a private initiative and is sponsored by the animal rights organisation NOAH. In one to two weeks it has quickly gained support and has 4.140 signatures at the moment of writing this article. The goal of the campaign at the start was 1.000 and now is 10.000 signatures.

The initiative was motivated by the frustrating situation concerning elephants in circus in Norway, outlined by «The World of Baba» in the article «Exploding a Norwegian myth». As stated in the petition text: «Animal rights advocates were one step away from getting a ban against circus elephants in Norway. The governmental Mattilsynet proposed a ban starting in 2015. However, the Minister of Agriculture, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, overruled this advice in October 2012 and decided to continue to allow elephants to perform in Norway».

Yesterday the liberal political party «Venstre» in Bergen, Norway as reported by the newspaper BA filed a message of concern with the local Food Safety Authority asking for an inspection of the Cirkus Merano to control the welfare and health of Baba. The circus is arriving in Bergen on March 31 and will have a series of performances there. The circus started its 2013 season on March 1. It has by now travelled from the eastern part of the country round the southern tip of Norway up the west coast in temperatures below zero and with performances almost every day.

«It has been well documented that this elephant suffering in captivity, in the same way as other circus elephants do», Per-Arne Larsen, deputy leader of the local Bergen Venstre said to the newspaper. The press contact at Cirkus Merano stated that there are no reason to worry about Baba and asked the local political representatives to stop behaving like «fjompenisser», a Norwegian expression for behaving like a fool.

Julie Andersland, the lead of Bergen Venstre, in an e-mail informed the newspaper that her party will in April renew its effort from last year to a have a local ban on the use of wild animals in circus and that the local authorities refuse to let circuses perform in public ground in Bergen. «The city of Bergen must take responsibility», she stated.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authortiy does not want to allow elephants in circuses, said senior advisor Maria Været Veggeland to the BA. «The Ministry (of Agriculture) however, wants elephants in circuses and it is they who ultimately decide», she added. The Food Safety Authority is working on new regulations following the Ministry’s decision to continue to allow elephants in Norwegian circuses.

Related stories : «Exploding a Norwegian myth», «When terror strikes – Baba’s story (1)» and «The sad World of Baba». See also expert interviews with Dame Daphne Sheldrick, Marion E. Garaï and Gay Bradshaw.

Text: Inge Sellevåg

When terror strikes – Baba’s story (1)

Baba is a female Asian elephant born in the wild in India, presently appearing with the Cirkus Merano in Norway. The exact year of birth is difficult to establish. A 2008 survey of elephants in European circuses estimated it to be 1970. This is the first part of her story, recounting how she was captured in the wild and probably was brutally broken down physically and mentally to accept the dominance by humans.


Baba according to a 2012 newspaper article based on information from the Cirkus Merano, was one of many elephants who were left alone. Her mother had been killed by poachers. This version have not been further documented or detailed. Professor Jacob V. Cheeran, a leading on elephant capture living in Kerala, India, says to «The World of Baba» that female Asian elephants are normally not hunted, since they don’t have a tusk. If a baby elephant (calf) is left alone, the herd will normally take it care of it. Other female elephants will raise the calf as their own.

The other possibility is that Baba was captured by a method traditionally used for elephant capture in India, where she was born. If she was born in the northeastern part of country would be «Mela Shikar», also known as «lassoing» or «noosing», says professor Jacob V. Cheeran, a leading expert on elephant capture. In southern India where he lives, elephants have been captured after falling into a pit. Elephants imported to Europe in the 1970s came from the northeastern state of Assam. The picture above is from the web site of George Munro, one of the companies possibly importing Baba. The picture shows a young elephant led to an elephant in Assam by tame elephants after capture. See more pictures.


The «Mela Shikar» method of capture involves hunting down the victim in a herd of wild elephants photo: Creative Commons/ Ekabhishek). An elephant herd may consist of up to ten or more animals and they are all females who stay with the herd all life. Only males stray out on their own when they are about 14 years and there can be three generations in a herd. Baba did not only enjoy the company of her mother, but sisters, cousins, aunts and grand mother. Then one day as they are grazing peacefully in a field or walking in the forest, terror strikes out of the blue:

» There will be three persons on the back of the tame elephant», explains professor Cheeran: «One will sit on the neck and will drive the elephant into the herd to disturb and cause panic and drive herd mates to all sides. Then he will try to isolate the selected elephant and the second person who will be standing on the elephant will try to throw the noose. The third person will try put the noose over the head. The poor animal will try to remove the noose using the trunk and at that moment a jerk of the noose will make it fall over the trunk and get it into neck. Then there is fast race along with the noosed one, till it is exhausted. If you follow it you will have scratches all over your body and feel a burning sensation after the event. Mostly sub -adults are caught by this method».


The horrors of elephant capture were documented by the Indian film maker Mike Pandey. While making the award-winning documentary «Vanishing Giants» (2004) about Asian elphants he witnessed the capture of a male elephant who searching for food together with its herd had strayed into contact with villagers. The elephant, brutally beaten, died after 18 days. The same had happened with 18 elephants in one year and was written off as accepted mortality during capture. Pandey published a news film about the shocking event which made the headlines in India and internationally. The Indian government immediately banned elephant capture and announced new rules. Now «Mela Shikar» and all other traditional methods are replaced by drug immobilisation.

As for Baba, having been brought to an elephant camp she probably underwent the brutal process of «breakdown» before she was exported to Germany. «She should have been broken before sending her abroad», says professor Jacob V. Cheeran. Baba was one year old or so when she was captured. An elephant that age weighs close to one ton and is already very strong. It cannot be controlled except by breaking it down physically and mentally to accept the dominance by humans.


«A breakdown means that the elephant is tied to a tree or similar, with ropes that bind its legs diagonally. The ropes are tied so tight that it causes extraordinary pressure on the joints, and thus pain. At the same time it is denied food and a fire is lit close to the elephant so that it can not sleep. The future coach then offers the elephant food and drink to show dominance and control. After a few hours or days, it is led by the coach with two other trained elephants to its new training ground».

This description of the «breakdown» is found in a report from the scientific advisory committee of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. The agency in 2009 proposed a ban on the use of elephants in circuses in Norway with particular reference to the breaking process (the ban has later been cancelled). The committe wrote that most circus elephants today probably have been wild or their parents have been so, so that they are not domesticated. The elephants therefore with high probability have undergone «breakdown». The method according to the Food Safety Authority is unacceptable from an animal welfare point of view.

For a review of methods of elephant capture and «breakdown» see «History and biology of traditional elphant management» by Fred Kurt. Read also the 1927 articvle «Elephant catching in Assam», appearing in Asian Elephant Specialist Group newsletter in 1992.


What are the long-term effects on the mind of Baba and other elephants of trauma in early life ? Joyce Poole, research director of the Ambroseli Trust for Elephants writes in «The Capture and Training of Elephants»: «The capture of a calf and its removal from a family has an immensely psychological impact on the calf. The trauma it experiences through the breaking of close bonds leaves a permanent mark on its consciousness».

«Post traumatic syndrom (PTS) can happen», says professor Jacob V. Cheeran. This psycological suffering is a severe anxiety disorder, more commonly called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can develop after exposure to an event like the threat of death to oneself or to someone else and sexual or physical abuse and is usually associated with humans. In 2005, however, the American psychologist Gay Bradshaw discovered that wild elephants in Africa attacking villages showed signs of PTSD. The disorder manifests in flashbacks to the trauma and nightmares and can result in sudden aggression.

«But by this time it should be over although elephants are blessed with long memory», says professor Cheeran. «One of the greatest things about elephants are their capacity of adaptability», he adds. Cheeran thinks that Baba by now, at the age of over 40 years, has left the social trauma and the horror of capture in her early life behind. He also thinks that the life with her female owner and trainer Adriana Folco Althoff will meet the behavioural and to some extent physiological needs of both».

So is the life in circus really the best life she can hope for ? Is she content under the circumstances – or is she frustrated, bored and sad like Dr. Marion E. Garaï told «The World of Baba» after seeing videos showing Baba’s stereotypic behaviour, the continuous swaying from side to side with her body and head ? What else has Baba experienced, after she came to Germany and was trained to be a circus elephant ?

Text: Inge Sellevåg

The sad world of Baba

«The World of Baba» is an information blog about elephants in circus written by the retired Norwegian journalist Inge Sellevåg. The blog is named after and focuses on the female elephant Baba, born in the wild in India and currently travelling with the Norwegian Cirkus Merano.

Baba i teltet

According to a 2008 survey of elephants in European circuses Baba is born in 1970. She may be born one of the following years, since the exact birth year of circus elephants is difficult to state for sure. It has to be an estimate based on the size and physical characteristics of the elephant on import. Baba was after capture in the wild imported to Germany and according to CITES documents acquired by the Elephant keeper Amedeo Folco in January 1975. The Norwegian Cirkus Merano in its 2013 souvenir program says that Baba has been in the Folco family for over 40 years, i.e. born in 1973 or earlier. Press report based on circus information has stated that she came to the family when she was two years old.

Amedeo Folco trained Baba to be a circus elephant by the method «free contact». She is presently owned and trained by his daughter Adriana Folco Althoff. No definite information about Baba’s performances can be found in open sources on the internet until she and Adriana appeared with the Cirkus Merano in 2003. They continued with Merano in 2004, then spent two years with the Danish Cirkus Benneweis and came back to Norway in 2007. The following years were spent with the Dutch Circus Herman Renz. Both there and in Denmark Baba appeared under the name «Baby». Now Baba and Adriana is travelling with the Cirkus Merano in Norway for the third year running (2011, 2012, 2013).

Baba exhibits stereotypic behaviour, a known indicator of poor animal welfare and possibly of serious psychological disturbances. The behaviour was as shown above filmed by «The World of Baba» when Baba visited Åsane, Bergen, Norway on April 2, 2012. Dr. Marion E. Garaï, an expert on elephant behaviour, viewed this and other videos filmed that day and told the blog that Baba’s stereotyping says she is frustrated, bored and sad. It could be seen as Baba’s last way of avoiding madness, Garaï said.

The famous Dame Daphne Sheldrick who has reared orphaned elephants all her grown life, said that the stereotypic behaviour of elephants in zoos and circuses indicates psychosis due to the cruel and unnatural conditions in which they are held and is indicative of frustration and psychological suffering. The American psychologist and ecologist Gay Bradshaw said the circus life of Baba should be ended immediately: «Make a diagnosis and start the treatment immediately. One does not need to be an expert on elephants to see that Baba is broken in spirit and mind».

Inge Sellevåg before retirement worked with the newspaper Bergens Tidende in Bergen, Norway for 42 years (1968-2010). He specialized in popular science, communicating research and investigative journalism. He was in 2000 awarded the Den store journalistprisen. The blog is endorsed by the European Elephant Group (EEG) and Inge Sellevåg is a member of the Norwegian animal rights organisation NOAH, which runs a campaign aginst the use of elephants and other wild animals in circus. The Norwegian government was one step away from implementing a ban on elephants in circus, but in 2012 decided to allow them to perform.

The decision was yet an example of Norway exploding the myth of itself as a nation protecting animals and the environment and caused frustration and anger among animal welfare advocates. A petition campaign demanding the freedom of Baba was started short time ago and sponsored by NOAH. The campaign has reached almost 4.000 signings and was initiated by another private person not affiliated with «The World of Baba». The petition, however, with the permission of the blog author refers to expert opinions published by the blog.

Text: Inge Sellevåg

Exploding a Norwegian myth

First Norway was about to ban elephants in circuses from 2015. Then there was a two and a half year long delay of the implementation process. In October 2012 the Norwegian government decided that it will continue to allow Asian elephants in circuses. What happened ?

baba moss2

The elephant debate in Norway started on the political level in 2002. The then Minister of Agriculture Lars Sponheim (the liberal party Venstre) announced that the use of elephants in circuses would be banned on the basis of the national animal welfare law from 1973. In an article in the national newspaper «Dagbladet» the minister wrote: «How we treat the weakest among us, the animals, reflects the humanity of our society. Yes or no to elephants in circuses is a question of our attitude to keeping animals in general, in other words a question of values».

The minister mentioned particularly the strains the elephants suffer during transport across the long stretched country of Norway. The Cirkus Merano, the «home» of Baba, started its 2013 season on March 1 in Fredrikstad, in eastern Norway. The picture below was taken in Moss March 5 and the circus has so far has travelled around the southern tip of Norway up along the west coast, with performances almost every day. The temperature during the tour has been below zero and the circus now is approaching the city of Bergen. Last year the Cirkus Merano visited over 140 places all the way up northern Norway and back again, ending the season with a performance in Oslo on September 16.


In 2003, when Baba started her string of yearly performances in Norway with the Cirkus Merano, the Norwegian parliament discussed a white paper on animal welfare. The minister once again stressed the symbolic importance of the elephant issue. It involves relatively few animals and the economic consequences are limited. A ban of elehants in circus therefore should be easy to handle compared to other animal welfare cases which involve a lot of animals and bigger industrial concerns. If nothing can be done with elefants in circuses there is less hope of getting something about the situation of other animals, said the Minister of Agriculture.

The circus industry, however, launches a counter-offensive. The director of the Cirkus Merano publicly threathened to close his circus because of the government’s continuous efforts to restrict the industry. The press as usual played the role as his master’s voice for the circus industry, painting the cozy picture of circus life and ridiculing the Minister of Agriculture. The result was that nothing really happened and then came a change of government in 2005, reshuffling the cards. The rural based Senterpartiet with a conservative approach to animal welfare took over the renamed Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the process went back to start.

Then there was a new initiative. Much thanks to the campaigning of the animal rights organisations, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority responsible for animal welfare, initiated a study into all aspects of the use of animals in circus by its advisory scientific committee. The comittee delivered a report highly critical to the use of circus elephants and the authority followed the advice, recommending in 2009 a ban on elephants – or rather, they were excluded from a so-called «positive list» of animals allowed in circuses. African elephants had been out of Norwegian circuses since the start of the decade due to import restrictions according to the CITES convention. The ban thus only concerned Asian elephants.


The proposed ban went on a public hearing in December 2009 and was supported by all animal welfare and scientific institutions asked for their opinion. Norway seemed one step away from stopping the use of elephants in circuses by January 1, 2015. The Food Safety Authority set this date so that the circuses could have five years adjusting to the new situation. But the then minister of agriculture and food Lars Peder Brekk prolonged the internal review of the hearing in his department and the implementation of the ban never happened. Above he is meeting with Live Kleveland from the animal rights organisation Dyrevernalliansen. It published a report reviewing the scientific litterature about elephants in captivity and she in 2010 handed the report to the minister, also giving him a soft cake to make him more sympathetic to a ban.

Then over two and a half year went by without further action. The case got political embarassing and seemed entangled in a bureaucratic game in which the government obviously tried to exhaust the animal rights organisations. In June 2012, however, a young, dynamic man named Trygve Slagsvold Vedum from the Senterpartiet took over the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. He set aside the scientific recommendations and in October 2012 announced that Norway would continue to allow Asian elephants to perform in circuses, on the condition that there will be some improvements in their welfare. Adding a touch of comedy he mentioned as an example that the elephants will get a shower in hot weather.

slagsvold vedum

The situation is complicated: The Food Safety Authorty, originally proposing a ban, was asked to set up new regulations for continued use of elephants and did so against its will. The regulations have been on a public hearing, ending March 15, and the agency now is in the process of putting together the different answers and suggestions it has received. The material will then be sent to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and to the Ministry of Fisheries. Sometimes the Food Safety Authorty wishes tighter regulations than those first proposed. If not, it will ask the ministry of agriculture to implement the guidelines. Both ministries may want to make changes themselves and this could require a new hearing. If not, the regulations can come into force, says senior advisor Maria Vaeret Veggeland in Food Safety Authority to «The World of Baba».

The circus industry had an opportunity to speak their mind before the new regulations were sent on public hearing. The Food Safety Authority wanted to study the consequences of the regulations and contacted the circuses. They stated that the demands for e.g. free space to move, temperature regulations and preventive health care already are fullfilled by the circuses. The authority proposes that groups of elephants of up to 4 animals should have an at least 200 square metres area and alaways have access to a roofed place which holds the temperature of 15 degrees C. Because elephants are highly social animals It will not be allowed to keep a single elephant in a circus. Baba travels alone with the Cirkus Merano, allegedly because she does not accept the company of other elephants.


In the meantime a general election is approaching in Norway, to be held on September 9, 2013. Animals usually are not an issue during election campaigns, but at the moment the government has to keep in mind some controversial issues concerning animal welfare and the protection of animals which could be politically harmful. At the top of this page you see a circus elephant (Baba) looking at you. Here you see a wolf. If you let them look hard enough at you, they are basically conveying the same message: Norway internationally enjoys the reputation as a heroic nation prepared to save animals and safeguard the environment no matter where in the world. Back home, within the borders of Norway, different ways of thinking and rules of taking care of the animals seem to apply.

There are only 30-40 wolves left in Norway. The government has sanctioned an aggressive hunting of them this winter because farmers claim they threatened the livestock of sheep. This issue recently was the subject of an article in the British newspaper Guardian saying Norway’s plan to kill wolves explodes myth of environmental virtue. Also the other predators in Norwegian wildlife – the lynx, the brown bear and the wolverine – are aggressively hunted. As for the Asian elephant, faced with extinction in the wild, the Norwegian government of course endorses all efforts to save this species – in Asia. While in Norway it is okay that this intelligent, social animal with emotions equalling ours is exhibited doing stupid tricks for the entertainment of humans.

We probably are back to what the minister of agriculture said in 2002. Elephants in circus is not a question of elephants only, but of animals in general. Right now also the keeping of fur animals in cages for industrial production is a major issue in Norway and the current minister (smiling on the picture above) probably knows that all these issues are connected. Siri Martinsen, the leader of the animal rights organisation NOAH, touched upon an important point in an article last year when she asked if the ministry of agriculture is using the elephant issue to stall the progress of other animal welfare issues. The price for these tactics could be high if Baba as the most well known circus elephant in Norway turns into a symbol in the struggle for the rights and welfare of all animals.

Text: Inge Sellevåg

– All civilized countries should ban this

. «It is not natural for an Elephant to have to stand on a stool, or on its head, and perform unnatural acts for the so-called entertainment of humans, added to which there should be nothing entertaining in seeing an unfortunate captive, deprived of its family and friends, who has been turned semi mad by being forced to endure cruelty and deprivation».

Image Credit: Supplied picture

This statement is part of an e-mail sent to «The World of Baba» by Dame Daphne Sheldrick (picture), one of the most recognized and respected elephant experts internationally. She sent the e-mail after «The World of Baba» filmed the stereotypic behavior of the female Indian elephant Baba in Bergen, Norway last year and contacted her. She states that the training of performing circus elephants is brutal in the extreme, aimed at breaking the spirit of the animal» and that the «stereotypic behaviour of circus or zoo elephants indicates psychosis». Read the full statement.

Daphne Sheldrick (born June 4, 1934 Kenya) has a lifelong experience working with orphaned elephants and currently runs The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya named after her late husband David Sheldrick. She was in 1992 elevated to the UNEP’s elite Global 500 Roll of Honour, in 2002 the Kenyan government honoured her with the prestigious Moran of the Burning Spear (M.B.S.) decoration and in 2006 Queen Elisabeth II appointed her Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, the first Knighthood to be awarded in Kenya since the country received Independence in 1963.

«I have been hand-rearing Elephant calves, orphaned by the demand for Ivory in the Far East, for the past 50 years, and to date have successfully hand-reared over 174 orphaned elephant young, two from the day of birth», Dame Daphne writes in e-mail to «The World of Baba»:

«All our elephants are returned back where they rightly belong when grown, amongst the wild elephant community of Kenya’s largest National Park – Tsavo – currently home to the country’s largest single elephant population, numbering some l0,000. Elephants duplicate us humans in terms of age progression, with an identical expected lifespan, and having been with them most of my 78 years, I can rightly claim to know them intimately».

In 2012 she published her long awaited autobiography «An African Love Story – Love, Life, and Elephants» and in the video above she speaks about the book and her work. In connection with the release she was invited to the American Museum of Natural History. She also featured in the documentary film «Born To Be Wild», and gave this interview.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick

«Rearing the young has proved beyond doubt that elephants duplicate us humans emotionally, and in many respects are superior to us in terms of caring and nurturing even when just infants themselves. Like us, the most important thing to an elephant is its family, its friends and a quality of life». Like humans, elephants do not belong in boxes or in cages, since in order to enjoy a quality of life they need each other and more than that space. l00 miles is simply a little stroll for an elephant, something that has been demonstrated time and again rearing their orphaned young».

This is the rest of her letter to «The World of Baba»:

«The training of performing circus elephants is brutal in the extreme and aimed at breaking the spirit of the animal. They are forced through fear of reprisals should they disobey to perform unnatural acts».

«The training of performing circus elephants is brutal in the extreme, aimed at breaking the spirit of the animal. They are forced through fear of reprisals should they disobey to perform unnatural acts for the so-called
entertainment of humans. That «Elephants Do Not Forget» has been scientifically proven through a study of the elephant brain which is far superior to that of a human in terms of memory.

That they also reason and think is also indicated by the similar convolutions of the brain. One of our ex orphans, now living a normal wild life, voluntarily returned to the rehabilitation centre in Tsavo and instantly recognized a keeper she had not seen for 37 years who just happened to be visiting on that day!.With elephants, one reaps what one sows. Handled with loving care and kindness will reap the same from an elephant, but handled with cruelty is a recipe for disaster. Our ex orphans now living wild, who have had their own wild-born babies, bring them back to the rehabilitation centres from whence they were returned to the wild community, simply to share their joy with their erstwhile human family.

All this is recorded through the keepers’ diaries in the orphans section of our website, and with images as well. More than that they have returned with wild elephant friends who have just stood by and watched the human family enter the herd and actually handle the newborn as it shelters beneath its mother’s belly. There can be no greater accolade from an elephant to a human than that!»

«Stereotypic behaviour of circus or zoo elephants indicates psychosis due to the cruel and unnatural conditions in which they are held and is indicative of frustration and psychological suffering».

«By nature elephants are gentle and caring, who live amicably with all other creatures that share their space which do not pose a threat to them or their young, but they can be dangerous when the time comes that they feel they have to settle the score. Stereotypic behaviour of circus or zoo elephants indicates psychosis due to the cruel and unnatural conditions in which they are held and is indicative of frustration and psychological suffering. (The film was shot in Norway and shows the female Indian elephant Baba).

It is not natural for an Elephant to have to stand on a stool, or on its head, and perform unnatural acts for the so-called entertainment of humans, added to which there should be nothing entertaining in seeing an unfortunate captive, deprived of its family and friends, who has been turned semi mad by being forced to endure cruelty and deprivation. Britain has passed law to ban the keeping of elephants in circuses and now that so much more is known about these highly intelligent animals, who duplicate us humans emotionally, I would hope that all civilized countries would do the same», Dame Daphne ends her letter.

Text : Inge Sellevag

Related stories:
This has to stop !
– She is frustrated, bored and sad.
– We are glad to help Baba.
A brief history of Baba.

– This has to stop !

– This has to stop! Make a diagnosis and start the treatment immediately. One does not need to be an expert on elephants to see that Baba is broken in spirit and mind. She suffers mentally. The best treatment is to stop the terrible domination by humans that she lives under. She should be taken out circus and come to a resting place for elephants, says Dr. Gay Bradshaw. She is a forefront figure in international research into elephant psychology and behavior.


– We are into a whole new way of thinking in relationship to the animals. A shift of paradigm. It is no longer necessary to appeal just to emotions to win sympathy for their cause. Science tells everything. Many still cling to the old view that there is a fundamental difference between us and animals. The facts of science breaks down this distinction. The animals are our equal and entitled to the same rights. The elephants with his high intelligence, his specter of emotions and advanced social life is a door opener in this work, says Gay Bradshaw. Besides elephants she has worked specifically with parrots, who also breaks new ground for science.

Gay Bradshaw in her work combines neuroscience, psychology and animal behavior and pioneers an entirely new branch of research called «trans-species psychology», that is psychology across species (humans included). Studying wild elephants in Africa she discovered that elephants like people can be victims of traumas of the past and exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She and co-authors Alan N. Shore, Joyce Poole, Janine L. Brown and Cynthia J. Moss published the discovery in an article in Nature, 2005 titled «Elephant Breakdown».

Bradshaw is the director of the Kerulos Center, a nonprofit organization who “translate knowledge of animals as fully sentient beings into animal care, conservation, and human cultural transformation”. Its motto is «knowledge is only meaningful when combined with action» (Goethe). Bradshaw has written several books. The latest is titled “Elephants on the Edge”. Here she explores the minds, emotions, and lives of elephants and what they can learn us about being human. The New York Book Review called it “ a remarkable study of elephant–human interactions”.


– I sincerely ask you to listen to Dame Daphne Sheldrick. I know no other person who knows so much about elephants, says Gay Bradshaw. Dame Daphne earlier said to “The World of Baba” that the training of circus elephants is brutal in the extreme and that the stereotypic behavior of elephants in captivity indicates psychosis. Dr. Marion E. Garaï, an expert on elephant behavior, commented on videos of Baba published by the blog and said that her behavior is a last way to avoid madness. Please read the full statement by Dame Daphne Sheldrick sent to «The World of Baba» and the original e-mail from Marion E. Garaï.

– Baba’s tragic story has the potential of becoming a symbolic case beyond Norway.

– Baba’s tragic story has the potential of becoming a symbolic case beyond Norway in the struggle to ban the use of elephants and other wild animals in circus, says Gay Bradshaw. She is concerned with the fact that Baba is the only elephant in her circus and is not buying the explanation given by the owner/trainer, that Baba does not accept the company of other elephants. – I doubt that very much. It is possible that Baba enjoys the company of a horse, but this argument is ridiculous. A highly social animal like the elephant is thrilled in the company of other elephants. If that is not the case, something special must have happened to Baba. I would not be surprised if she for example has been subject to forced breeding. That leaves deep traces in the mind.

– Honestly I also feel sorry for Adriana.

Gay Bradshaw also warns against being fooled by the description of the relationship between Baba and her owner/trainer Adriana Folco Althoff given by the circus. Their interaction in the ring is characterized by luminous love between them, says the circus program.
– Baba may be fond of Adrania, but in her own way. Hostages or prisoners can develop empathy with the people who keeps them in captivity. This is a well known psychological phenomenon known as the Stockholm syndrome. Honestly I also feel sorry for Adriana. Having lived with Baba for such a long time they must have developed a close relationship and Adriana maybe tries to treat her gently when they perform. However, other forces than human emotions run the circus trade, says Bradshaw.

Text : Inge Sellevag

Related stories:
– We are glad to help Baba.
– The training of circus elephants is brutal in the extreme.
– She is frustrated, bored and sad.
A brief history of Baba.

– She is frustrated, bored and sad

– Baba is trying to tell us that she is frustrated, bored, sad and not happy at all. She would greatly like to have company of other elephants and be in a large open space where she can walk, feed and swimm when she likes. She would like to live the normal life of an elephant and not have to stand on her hind legs or walk in cicles in a circus arena and then spend her whole day locked up, says Dr. Marion Garaï, chairperson of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group (ESAG) in South-Africa.

Foto: Inge Sellevåg

The blog «The World of Baba» filmed on video the 40 year or so female Indian elephant Baba (previously named Baby) while she visited the suburb of Aasane in Bergen, Norway April 2, 2012 with the Norwegian Circus Merano. It was early afternoon on a cold April day and Baba was staying in a tent in the circus backyard. Wind and snow was blowing outside, with the spring sun peeping through occasionally. She was standing on concrete ground with approximately 50 square meters of space to move.

I stayed with Baba in the tent for about an hour. Most of the time she was standing behind the fences (probably electrified) swaying from side to side with her head and trunk, now and then taking a step forward or backward. She seemed totally lost in her own mental world. This behaviour is known as stereotypic behaviour and generally is considered indicative of poor animal welfare. I contacted the European Elephant Group (EEG) and was recommended to forward my video footage to Dr. Marion Garaï, who has served as scientific consultant for EEG.

– She is typically stereotyping, even while feeding, Marion Garaï wrote having in an email having viewed the videos. She assessed an African elephant named Mausi for EEG and for practical reasons had to use video footage. Mausi suffered after a long life in circus and unfortunately died before help arrived. Here you can read Marion Garaï’s assessment.

She has absolutely no reservations assessing Baba from the videos, since Baba was showing typical stereotypic behaviour: – Any elephant specialist will immediately know that she weaves even after eeing only a few minutes and that this is a sure sign of bad keeping conditions. A normal, happy elephant which is kept busy, has space, can socialise and feed whenever it likes does not stereotype at all, Marion Garaï wrote:

– Stereotypic behaviour is indicative and typical for animals kept under poor conditions, insufficient space to move, lack of social parnters, nothing to keep them busy and being chained. Weaving in elephants (a type of stereotypic behaviour) does not occur in the wild or in an adequate holding facility such as safari park. There they have a large social group and are kept busy all the time and have space to roam and are never chained. Weaving is a last resort of frustration, much like the rocking in humans that are confined in psychatric wards. It expresses helplesness, says Marion Garaï and suggests a possible neurobiological explanation:

– The only way to avoid total madness is by stereotyping.

«The elephant and human brains show much in common, especially in the cortico limbic structures, which is the seat of emotions. The structural similarities are mirrored in behavioural patterns. Elephants have insight, language, emotions, pesonalities, even culture. Elephants can get post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Keeping an elephant confined in a small space with nothing to do and no social partner tantamounts to imprisoning a human in social isolation in a small cell. The only way to avoid total madness is by stereotyping. But it must be said, that elephants that do weave so much and have been subjugated to performing in the circus, are alredy broken in spirit and mind. Social isolation has done the rest and Baba is a very very poor elephant».

In this video Baba tries to get the attention of two workers coming into her tent. She smashes her trunk into the plastic ceiling and finally succeeds and get bananas as «reward»: – She is frustrated as she cannot get to the keeper, who is fixing something and she hits the plastic roof, then begs for food. She is clearly very aware of the wires, which I assume are electrified. Her enclosure is very small, and I assume the plastic walls and roof are against the wind and cold, but this does not allow her to see anything. There is nothing for her to do, says Marion Garaï.

– This is a coping strategy.

– Sterotypies have been described as abnormal coping strategy in bad housing conditions, she adds: – They are developed in a motivational conflict situation, out of boredom, and born of frustration when an animal cannot reach its goal, e.g. cannot get to a social parter, cannot walk because of chains, cannot get to food when hungry because of housing restriction or chains, and many many more. My guess would be that elephants ‘weave’ to ease discomfort, frustration, etc. and that this is a coping strategy, the only way out without going mad, This of course shows that there is something very wrong in the keeping methods!

Marion Garaï also has viewed videos of Baba performing in the ring, posted on the YouTube. – The performance is pathetic and ridiculous to say the least, she says: – Turning round in circles on a bench. The lady wielding the stick and pretending to be very imporant and showing off. She does nothing else but show Baba the stick which she obviously used during training, otherwise it would not be necessary to use it.

– I would not be surprised if she eventually gets arthritis.

This video was filmed in Steinkjer, Norway in May 2012. In other videos it is seen that Baba has problems placing her hind legs on the bench and cannot get up, the lady beating her legs with the stick. – This is an outdated practice which damages the joints, as elephants are too heavy to stand on two legs. Males do it during mating, but rest the font legs on the females back. Baba is rather heavy for an Asian elephant, as she does not get sufficient excercise, so all the more weight to place on her joints. I would not be surprised if she eventually gets arthritis, Garaï writes.

Foto: Fredrikstad Blad

This picture was taken by the Norwegian newspaper Fredrikstad Blad before the opening show when Baba visited Norway for the first time in 2003. Her owner and trainer Adriana Folco Althoff commands her to sit on a bench to pose for the photographer. The newspaper arranged a competion for their readers to guess the weight of Baba. The right answer was three tons. Imagine the strain this position puts on Baba’s body.

– On the photo the eye of Baba is clearly visiable and it shows she is frightened, wide open and the white visible. Whether she is frightenend by the trick, the stick (ancus) the lady is holding or something else in the audience, I cannot tell. She certainly has negative experience with the ancus, or she would not do such an unnatural trick! Very young elephant may take up similar positions when they are playing and tumbling over each other. They may also sit shortly before lying down, Garaï comments.


For a moment Baba she stops her «weaving», look at me and then continues to sway from side to side. It’s a strange situation. Is she just judging a stranger, wondering what he is doing there ? Then she moves backwards in the tent, lost in her own mental world. It’s a sad sight. In a couple of hours she is once again due to enter the ring, performing her ridiculous, undignified tasks for the so-called amusement of humans.

– I feel very sorry for Baba, both because she is in a poor state of mind and because she is living under poor conditions, says Marion Garaï. Whether Baba suffers a deeper trauma/PTSD is not for her to say. Neuroscience is not her area of scientific competence. Still a psychological/psychiatric state of mind is involved in the stereotypic behaviour displayed by Baba, Garaï states and points to neurological research done the last decades, particularly by the American psychologist and author Gay Bradshaw.

Text : Inge Sellevag

Related stories:

– This has to stop !
– We are glad to help Baba.
– The training of circus elephants is brutal in the extreme.
A brief history of Baba.

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