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The sad world of Baba

mars 24, 2013

«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

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