Posts Tagged ‘African lion. circus lion’

From The Training of Wild Animals by Frank Charles Bostock (1903):

An animal learns by association. Though it is a common belief, fear is not the reason for his obedience to the trainer’s commands. Habit and ignorance are what cause the animal to become an apt pupil in the hands of the trainer. The animal becomes accustomed to the same way of doing the same things at much the same time, and ignorance of his own power keeps him in this state of subjection.

This habit is developed in the animal by a laborious and patient process, and it requires an intimate knowledge of animal nature to perfect it. The easiest animal to train is one that is born in his native haunts and new to captivity. The reason is obvious. The one bred in captivity has nothing to fear from man, and knows his own strength and the fear he inspires. Accustomed from earliest infancy to the greatest care and coddling, he arrives one day at the stage of growth where he realizes the value of his own claws, for the use of them has shown him that human beings do not like to be scratched. Some attendant, who has, perhaps, been playing with him day by day, admiring his pretty, innocent-looking little face, soft furry body, and velvety paws while he is still a mere cub, drops him suddenly one day when he feels the deep prick of the claws hidden in those paws. The next time someone comes along, the cub may not be in the mood for handling; he remembers his past experience, that scratching means “let go,” and he puts this into practice. His liberty is promptly secured, and he lies in peace in his cage.

The next man who comes may get a deeper scratch, and he lets the cub alone even more severely, a fact that the cub notes and remembers the next time, for he is gradually acquiring a deeper disrespect for man and his puerile ways; he is beginning to know the value of the little knives he carries sheathed in those paws, and he is very soon autocratic in his independence. He accepts his food as tribute and his care as homage due, and regards man simply as another and much weaker animal.

Such an animal is difficult to train. The only method that may be pursued at all is severe letting alone for several years. All that time he holds himself more and more aloof. He is, in a way, congratulating himself on his success, and man in time becomes a shadowy being who periodically brings his food, and who, in some inexplicable way, keeps him in that oblong box for people to stare at.

He does not mind the people, nor does he mind the cage very much, for he has never known anything else; but deep in him—so deep that he barely realizes its existence— slumbers a desire for freedom and an unutterable longing for the blue sky and the free air. Man, in some way, is to blame for that intangible “something” that he wants, and scarcely knows that he wants; and man has shown him that he is afraid of his claws, and, therefore, the animal hates and despises man and all belonging to him.

The cub grows insolent in his haughtiness; then his undefined desire for freedom decreases somewhat, becomes more and more vague, and his existence is finally comprised in just two sensations: eating and sleeping. The disturbance of either is an insult, and any one who disturbs either an enemy. Man allows both to continue, and so the cub in his arrogance tolerates him.

The cub passes beyond his days of cubhood, and acquires almost the years and stature of a full-grown lion. He has few of the qualities of the newly captured animal. He does not fear man; he knows his own power. He regards man, as an inferior, with an attitude of disdain and silent hauteur….

With a lion which comes straight from Africa or Asia, the case is different. Lions are usually trained when between two and three years of age. A two-year-old of fine physique and restless nature has been brought straight from his native haunts. There he has been actually the monarch of the jungle. His life has been free and fearless.

Suddenly, in the midst of his regal existence, he falls into a hidden pit or is snared in the woods. His desperate struggles, his rage and gnashing of teeth, all the force of his tremendous strength, are ineffectual in breaking the bonds of his captivity.

After his first supreme efforts are over and he has thoroughly exhausted himself, he proves himself a very king of beasts in his haughty disdain. He apparently realizes his helplessness and submits to everything in sullen, dignified silence.

The lion comes to the trainer from the jungle, after having been subjected to abuse and gross indignities. From the time of his capture by natives who have neither feeling nor consideration for the poor animal, until he reaches his final quarters, his treatment, as a rule, is such as to terrify him and render him nervous in the extreme.

He has been kept in cramped quarters, cruelly joggled and crushed in a narrow box, while on his way to the coast from the interior, his bedding left unchanged, and the poor food with which he has been provided thrown carelessly into the refuse and offal which surround him. Clean and fastidious, as the lion always is about his food and person, he often refuses to eat, and this, added sometimes to seasickness, makes his suffering terrible.

The finest health and strength will not stand such a strain for long, and by the time the journey is ended the lion is disgusted with man and his ways. In many cases he arrives in Europe or America sick and weak, and appears only too ready to die and get rid of his troubles. The only passion he has in this State is a genuine hate for man, and this hate seems to be the only thing which arouses him at all.

It frequently happens that wild animals kill themselves in frenzies of fear during transportation. Everything in their surroundings is new and strange to them. They have lost their freedom and the fresh air; they are cramped and half stifled in close quarters, surrounded by dirt and unwholesomeness, and cannot even keep their bodies still for two seconds, owing to the perpetual motion which goes on, and which, perhaps, terrifies them more than anything else. Therefore, when a wild animal is first turned over to the trainer, he is practically mad with his experiences and terrors (pg. 120-126, pg 129-132).

In those days of “lion taming,” the trainers actually preferred to train young lions that were born in the wild– and full of negative experiences with people.

Part of the reason why a lion would be easier to train after having had so many reasons to fear and detest a person is that the primary methods for training a lion are using what we would call negative reinforcement and positive punishment.

For a young lion that had been trapped in this manner, the human appears to have almost mystical power over him. He has spent much of his life scaring other animals, but at the age of two, he most likely hasn’t been a major asset to his pride’s hunts.  He has arrived as scared adolescent, and the only thing he knows about people is that they have absolute power to move him as they desire. Nothing in his life has told him that he has any power over people.

And the fact that he may have arrived in ill health also likely makes him a bit timorous.

But the animal is eventually tamed in this manner:

The feeding of the animal is the first step in his training. The trainer takes him about six pounds of fresh beef or mutton, with a piece of bone, once a day, and fresh, clear water three times a day. No one but the trainer is permitted to go near him or to look at him. He must become acquainted with the trainer’s personality, and must be made to realize that his food and drink come from the trainer only. He must also be made clearly to understand that the trainer means him no harm, but does everything for his comfort.

The meat is usually put upon the end of a long iron fork, and passed to him through the bars. He has to come a little way forward to take the meat, and gradually, without thinking about it, he comes close to the trainer. At first the water-pan is tied to the edge of the cage, because in trying to draw the pan toward him the animal would upset it and make the cage wet and uncomfortable. There would also be the difficulty of getting it out again with a stick, which might arouse the animal’s anger.

When the lion and his trainer have once become acquainted, he is transferred to another cage; and here again, for two weeks, he is fed, watered, and taken care of by the same trainer, until the animal not only gets accustomed to him, but looks forward to his presence, because it invariably means something pleasant to himself. In about six weeks’ time a loose collar is slipped around the lion’s neck when he is asleep. Attached to this collar is a chain, long enough for the animal to move about, but just short enough to keep him from reaching the end of the cage.

The next step is for the trainer to put a chair inside the cage. Instantly the lion springs for it, but, being kept in check by the chain, finds he cannot reach it, and retires to a corner, growling sulkily at the intruder. After casting vindictive glances at it, with occasional growls, he becomes accustomed to, its presence and takes no further notice of it. Then the trainer, after opening the door of the cage once or twice and looking in, finally walks calmly in himself and sits on the chair. He is just out of reach of the lion, and when the animal has growled and resented it as he did the chair, he again subsides into indifference.

Then comes the time when the lion is released from the chain, when the trainer takes his life in his hands, and when he knows that the moment of extreme danger has arrived. No matter how quiet and docile the lion may have appeared to be when chained, he is likely to develop suddenly a ferocious savagery when released.

At this stage Captain Bonavita always carries two stout oak sticks, one in the right hand and one in the left. The one in the right he keeps for immediate use, and when once punished with this stick, the lion, not knowing the purpose of the stick in the left hand, comes to fear that also and backs away from it. If possible, the sticks are used to stroke the lion, if he will permit it; for the condition of a wild animal is one of receptivity—he is willing to welcome anything that will give him pleasure. But it is rarely, indeed, at this stage of the proceedings that he will allow this.

In the first place, the lion is generally a little frightened or nervous himself, and alarm begets wrath. It is feline nature to dissemble that wrath until the moment of action. Leo does not growl or lash his tail. It is not the growling lion that is to be feared most, nor does the lashing tail, as so many suppose, indicate danger. Not anger, but good humor, comes from such indications. It is when the tail stands out straight and rigid that the trainer begins to think of retreat.

When the tail becomes stiff in this manner, it is generally a pretty sure indication that the animal is going to spring. When the trainer sees that tail become like an iron bar, he tries to slip out at the door; sometimes he knows he will never have the opportunity. Before the lion springs he glances aside carelessly, growling quietly, and the next instant, with open mouth and all four paws distended, he is sailing through the air, straight for the throat of the man, his tense body rigid with passion, and his five hundred pounds of sinew and muscle ready to descend on the intruder.

The man who will not have foreseen that terrific onslaught, holding himself in readiness for it, has no business with wild animals, and will, in all probability, never again attempt any dealings with them, because he will never have the chance. The agility which is one of the requisite qualities for a trainer must come into play, and upon it depends his life.

It is here that the chair, which plays no small part in an animal’s education, comes into use again. That chair was not brought into the cage merely for comfort. It is the best defense possible against the lion’s spring. Swift and apparently unpremeditated as the spring has been, the man has seen the tenseness of the muscles that preceded it, and before the animal has reached him, the stout legs of the chair are bristling between them.

Here is another problem for the lion. This unknown thing has suddenly assumed an unexpected and possibly a deadly significance. Snarling, he drops on his haunches and claws at the barrier; perhaps he has plumped into it and has felt the blows from its dull prongs. Then out from behind it springs a stick—the same stick of his pleasant memories, but turned to base uses now, for it flicks him smartly on the tip of his nose, just where a lion keeps all his most sensitive feelings.

Again it lands, and the chances are ten to one that two blows on that tender spot are enough. Howling with rage and discomfiture, the lion ceases to claw the chair and retires to his corner, very crestfallen and extremely puzzled and bewildered. By the time he has had leisure to consider the strange performance, the trainer is out of the cage, leaving the chair behind him.

Now the lion may do any one or all of several things, according to the depth of his emotions. He may glower and sulk in his corner; he may rant and tear about his cage, giving vent to his outraged feelings in loud roars; he may go for the chair and dismember it (not without scars to his own hide, probably); or he may settle down to think matters over calmly, possibly coming to the conclusion that it is unwise to attack any strange thing before finding out whether it can hurt in return.

Generally, after this chair incident, when the lion has got the worst of it, he calms down fairly soon, and on the reappearance of his trainer some time afterward has evidently forgotten the unpleasantness of it all, and remembers only that it is the trainer who brings him all he wants. In some cases he greets him with a gentle rubbing against the bars of his cage and a soft purr, for he is only a big cat, after all. The meat is taken with a slightly subdued air, he allows himself to be stroked and patted,—outside the bars,—and so another great step in his education has been taken and accomplished successfully.

The next stage in the training of a lion is for the trainer to enter the cage again with the chair and stick. No longer militant, but somewhat timid, the animal keeps in his corner, furtively watching the trainer. Little by little, the man edges the chair over until he is within reach; then he begins to rub the lion with his stick. Little by little he decreases the distance still more, until, finally, he has his hand on the lion’s shoulder and is patting him gently.

This is another great step in advance. The lion has learned to endure the touch of the human hand; although he murmurs sulkily, he likes it, for few animals are indifferent to petting. Day by day the trainer familiarizes the lion with his presence and touch; rubbing his back, stroking his shoulders, raising his paws,—a somewhat risky and ticklish trial,— and in the course of about two weeks after first entering the cage, if the animal be of fairly good temper, all alarm and overt enmity have been eradicated, so accustomed has the animal become to the presence of this one man (pg 133-144).

So the lion is tamed through something like the Stockholm Syndrome. They are essentially brainwashed into doing the bidding of people.

Such an animal would have been easier to work with– given the methods they used– than one born in captivity that has learned to treat humans as a social partner.

But no one in their right mind would go out and capture lions for the circus these days. Not only are lion numbers declining in the wild, but the very notion of catching wild animals to perform at a circuses is morally repugnant in the modern era.

But in the days of the lion tamers, they used the healthy populations of wild lions to provide the circuses with their performance animals.

It really is that counterintuitive that the lions that were used in circuses of that day were actually “tamed,” and the term “lion tamer” actually meant exactly as it implies.

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