Circus animals are often bred and born in captivity and begin learning from a very young age. There are risks involved in working with large animals that would normally be found in the wild. Carefully trained circus animal handlers work with these animals for long hours, creating a bond that will assist in a successful performance.
Asian elephants are most commonly found working in the circus. African elephants are the largest land mammals found on earth being a little bit bigger than the Asian elephant. Asian elephants are one of the most intelligent mammals on Earth, according to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Elephants use their trunk to smell, pick up food, suck up water to blow into their mouths and to spray water on their backs during hot days. Elephants also use their trunks to vocalize. In the circus, elephants eat a diet of fruits, vegetables, fresh bread and hay and they can drink 30 to 50 gallons of water in one day. The average Asian elephant is 10 feet long, weighing between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds.
The tigers most featured in the circus are Bengal tigers, which can be found in various color phases including orange, black and white. Tigers have become endangered due to the destruction of their habitats; poachers also kill them for their beautiful coats. There are five types of tigers still living in Nepal, China, Iran, Korea, Bangladesh, Java and Sumatra. The use of tigers in circuses is carefully monitored and performances are done behind barriers from the audience. Most of the tigers used in circuses have been bred and born in captivity, though there is always a risk when working with these predators. The tiger averages in size from 40 inches tall at the shoulder, 9 feet in length and 500 pounds in weight. They can live on average up to 20 years in captivity.
Horses found in circuses include Arabian, Friesian, Standardbred and Miniature horses. Horses within the circus are very social animals, with excellent eye sight, smell and hearing. Horses follow instructions well, making it easier to train them to perform freestanding, without the use of reins. Horses eat grass and grain and have a lifespan on average of 30 years. They are very fast--a thoroughbred or quarter horse can reach speeds of 40 mph.
Zebras are a member of the horse family and play a big role in the circus. The average size of a zebra is 7 1/2 feet long, up to 5 feet tall and weighing as much as 770 pounds. Zebras have a great sense of hearing and their eyesight resembles that of an owl at night. Zebras are known to travel in herds of a few or hundreds at one time. Each stripe on a zebra is different from another and there are no two zebras that have the same pattern.
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