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After show, housing animals is circus
Finding sites hard with U.S. awash in ex-performers
When Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey folds its circus tents in May, about 400 people will be out of a job.
So will dozens of animals.
The show’s famous elephants are already retired, now living out their days on the company’s conservation center in Florida.
Some acts, like the dogs and the lions, are owned by their handlers and will remain with them.
But the kangaroos, horses, camels, tigers and others belong to Feld Entertainment, the producer of Ringling, which has said it will find them suitable homes.
Stephen Payne, a spokesman, said those locations have not yet been chosen, but that wherever the creatures land will “have to meet our high animal care standards.”
Their options include zoos and private owners, but former circus animals often end up at the animal sanctuaries that dot the nation, which vary widely in quality. Those might not have much trouble taking in horses or kangaroos, but tigers, bears and other large carnivores are another matter.
Failed roadside zoos and refuges, abandoned exotic pets and crackdowns on circuses have created a swelling menagerie of wild animals that need homes with lots of land, lots of food and proper enclosures.
Payne said Feld owns about 18 tigers, which will likely join a steady stream of big cats in search of shelter.
“We will do anything we can do to help them place their tigers, I’ll say that right now,” said Ed Stewart, the president of the California-based Performing Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, a longtime Ringling adversary that this month took in eight tigers from a failed sanctuary in Colorado.
“But it’s not going to be easy, because all legitimate sanctuaries are full of tigers right now.”
The demand for wild animal accommodation is rising out of trends that animal welfare activists and sanctuary owners welcome, such as an increasing public distaste for entertainment and research involving animals and bans against circuses in U.S. cities and several Latin American countries.
But they say it is also a sign of the shocking ease with which Americans can acquire exotic animals, as well as the big money involved in breeding bear cubs and other creatures that sell for thousands of dollars.
Tigers are the emblems of this crisis of homeless wild animals, though bears are also “ridiculously hard to place,” said Kellie Heckman, executive director of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, which has accredited 132 U.S. sanctuaries, only 11 of which accommodate big cats.
Ordinary people adopt cubs as pets, and some zoos and refuges let visitors take photos with them, a practice animal welfare advocates condemn.
But cute cubs grow into aggressive adolescents within a matter of months, and those used for entertainment often don’t perform for many years.
U.S. officials and conservation groups estimate 5,000 to 10,000 tigers live in the United States, far more than in the wild. Until recently, dozens of them resided at Serenity Springs, an unaccredited Colorado sanctuary that bred big cats, offered photos with cubs and had been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for animal welfare violations.
Last fall, it was sold to a respected sanctuary in Arkansas, which has since been finding new homes for 110 animals, mostly cats.
“The sanctuary community cannot continue to be the dumping ground for all of those that make a profit off animals — whether that is using them for cub photos, circus acts or any commercial purpose. There just isn’t enough capacity,” Heckman said. “Building more sanctuary enclosures is not the answer. We need to regulate who can have exotic animals and for what purposes.”
Laws vary by animal and by state.
Some states have bans or require permits, while five do not restrict keeping dangerous wild animals. Last year, the federal government finalized two regulations aimed at increasing oversight of the American tiger population.
Advocates say they are hopeful the Ringling closure might generate momentum for two federal bills, which the company opposed, to ban private ownership and breeding of big cats as well as the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows.
Representatives of accredited sanctuaries say they’re eager to help find homes for the Ringling animals. Susan Bass, the spokeswoman for Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, said its founder had offered assistance in an email to chief executive Kenneth Feld. The sanctuary would be able to add some of the tigers to its population of 80 cats big and small, Bass said.
Among the Big Cat Rescue animals are five tigers from Serenity Springs, as well as Hoover, a recently arrived tiger that had spent his life traveling Peru in a circus wagon. That country banned performing exotic animals in 2011.
Feeding and caring for each tiger costs the sanctuary about $10,000 a year, Bass said.
“As far as we know, (Hoover had) never been able to roll around on the grass or have access to a body of water to play in,” Bass said. The tiger, who today lives on an acre of land with lakefront access, seemed startled when he first dipped his paw in the lake, but “he swims day and night now.”
Such initial bewilderment is common to circus animals, many of which have never had room to roam, said Pat Craig, executive director of the Wild Animal Sanctuary, a 720-acre Colorado spread that is home to 450 large carnivores. It recently took in two tigers from Mexico, part of an influx created after exotic animals in circuses were outlawed there. After Bolivia passed a similar ban, the sanctuary had received 25 lions.
One of the Mexico tigers, Craig said, is nearly paralyzed, probably because of an injury. For years it had been housed in a crate.
“It’s a huge load for our medical team to work on her, to get her back into shape,” he said.
But that tiger is lucky: Although the sanctuary takes in more than 100 animals each year, resource limitations force him to turn down 50 percent of the animals he’s asked to take.
Still, Craig emphasized that he could find space for Ringling animals.
Stewart, the California sanctuary director, echoed that. His main 2,300-acre facility houses a former Ringling elephant, one of three retired circus elephants on the property. Another used to ride a tricycle during the Hawthorn Corp.’s circuses.
Other animals under PAWS care, which include lynxes and monkeys, have complicated back stories, having been passed from owner to owner, he said.
“There’s no line between, ‘This is a pet animal, a roadside zoo animal, a circus animal,’ ” Stewart said. “They could be any one of those categories in their lifetime. They’re just a commodity.”
Alice’s son, Michael Foote, his wife, Rachel Brodie, and their little son, River, live on their mountain-side farm in northern Vermont. The upper part of their land is level with a vegetable garden, berry patch, and pasture for visiting horses. The property is wooded below that, falling to a stream that supported a beaver family until a neighbor shot them. Last Christmas, they gave jars of honey to friends and family with this letter. RJN
Dear Family and Friends,
Here is a jar of pure, unfiltered, naturally crystallized honey from my bees on Swamp Road to you.
Rachel thinks the rest of this letter makes me sound like an old Vermonter. I take that as a compliment, so here we go!
Then: my brother Jesse and I received a grant while undergrads to buy bees, and we started the hives at Dartmouth College. The next summer, we drove them to Scout camp to offer the bee-keeping merit badge as well as to continue our study.
Now: It’s been a fun little adventure to get to this point–from buying a box of bees to where I actually have honey in containers. This is my fourth year keeping bees. The first year was a disaster. I tried to be a little too creative, testing an alternative hive method before I knew enough to be doing that.
Top bar hive: My first hive, an alternative method, didn’t last the winter.
My first hive did not survive the winter, succumbing to an overwintering mouse. If a mouse gets into a hive in winter, it can exhaust the honey reserve. The mouse was cute, but seeing the pile of dead bees in spring was heartbreaking.
I started with the basics the second year, using a tried-and-true structure for raising bees. I purchased mail-order bees (Italian and Carniolan bees) and dumped them into a couple of hives I had built from kits. I was always worried about them. When it was cold out, I assumed they were cold. I wrapped them in insulation and anxiously pressed my ears up to the hives to hear the telltale buzz of life. When it rained for several days, I assumed they would be in need of food, so I fed them sugar water and a pollen substitute. I didn’t let them just be bees. Still, whether my parenting style had anything to do with it, my bees did thrive that year.
In my third year, I purchased a Vermont mongrel hive that had been bred to thrive in northern climates. I liked the Italian bees, but the Carniolan bees have been grumpy, so I was looking for a more docile, better adapted bee. I relaxed a bit, and still the hives did very well, each producing about 200 pounds of honey.
Apiary: A photo of three of my hives in the bee yard.
Going into my fourth, most recent year, I attempted to split some of my hives in two and start the summer with 8. All but one split thrived and I took about 150 pounds of honey in all. Not much, but a newly split hive must build its comb as well as store honey.
Splitting: I made two hives from one, simply be splitting it in two. The queenless hive made a new queen to become “queen right.”
Swarming is the process by which a new honey bee colony is formed when the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees. In the prime swarm, about 60% of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen.
· Swarm: One of my hives sent out a swarm, which I then caught and put in a new hive. Unfortunately it didn’t stay.
I tried to capture a couple of swarms this year. A swarm of bees lingers near its original hive for only a short period before moving to its new home. I was late.
Very active: A warm summer day, lots of food to collect.
Luckily, in this neck of the woods, I don’t have the problem of the well-publicized colony collapse disorder where hives oddly become active in the middle of winter, leave, and die. From my reading, I understand that saturation of the environment with pesticides and other chemicals, including neo-nicotinoids, is to blame. Neo-nicotinoids are a major factor in the decimation of pollinators everywhere and in the build-up of chemicals in our own bodies. Our nearby town of Richmond is aware of these chemicals and fairly progressive, to the benefit of my bees. Their honey is probably safer for us to eat than some produced elsewhere.
Future: I hope to try my hand at queen-rearing this coming spring to boost my hive numbers. (You grow a queen, give the queen a couple frames of bees, and your hive takes off.) I’m also hoping to plant a half-acre of Anise Hyssop for the bees to give their honey a hint of anise flavor.
I plan to pursue organic certification eventually, but, for the time being, I’m doing as much as I can to be environment- and health-conscious, as in buying hive wood from a responsible lumber yard down the road and using organic sugar feed when possible.
I should be clear–there’s no money in this business, but I love it. I love to work outside, and I find the bees fascinating: their complex social structure, their numbers (more than 50,000 in a hive), their communication systems (dancing, wiggling, pheromones, electric fields), and their ability to make wax, propolis, royal jelly and … honey! I could watch my bees all day long as they go back and forth with little baskets on their legs filled with pollen. I can’t wait until River is old enough to join me.
I rarely get stung, mostly because the bees are gentle. Still, when I’m opening their hives, I make sure to put on protective gear and use a smoker. Smoke makes the bees think a fire is coming and they move into the hive to eat honey in case they need to leave, After eating, the bees are pretty lazy and have a hard time bending their bodies to sting. I still run away when they get angry and have no shame doing the bee dance, an awkward combination of flailing, running, and yelling when a bee gets under my mask. When I do get stung I just bear it and feel tough.
Rachel supports my bee work and hasn’t complained about the cost of building an apiary. She grows a little tired of finding everything sticky in the kitchen. I try to protect life at home and at work from losing to the bees. I sneak out during River’s naps and get up early to do hive maintenance during the months March through October. In winter I can enjoy dreaming about what I will do with the bees the next year.
I aspire to sell honey on the roadside this spring and to guests in our rental unit to earn enough money to build a little bee shed so that I don’t have to do all my honey extraction in the house.
Let me know when you need more honey! Happy holidays. Bee well.
Note: My honey, like all honey, naturally crystalizes, preserving flavor and quality (considered premium quality because it is not blended with other substances), yielding richer taste in cooking, and spreading well enough Because I don’t filter or heat the honey, crystalization is quicker. Filtering honey removes a lot of the pollens and propolis that add to he nutritional value, and heating denatures the proteins,
To liquify honey, it is heated in a jar in a pot of hot water and stirred frequently until it is liquid. For storage, honey is best kept at 50 degrees prevent fermentation, though the very old alcoholic drink made with honey, mead, seems to gaining popularity.
Emphasis added, RJN
Two Movies with Cats I Haven’t Seen
–I heard a radio interview of someone who’d worked on the movie Inside Llewyn Davis in which a yellow cat shows up often. Asked how the cat was trained for the purpose, the guy said, “You can train a cat to do anything it wants to do.” Said that was why the company kept 16 yellow cats available, ready to work.
Yesterday Alice watched Nine Lives accompanied by Annie (short for Anhinga), one of our black twins who prefers Alice. When the movie cat spoke in its own voice, instead of Kevin Spacey’s, Annie got excited and searched for the cat, under the television set, behind it, around the room.
Cast includes Christopher Walken who ” … plays Felix, the quirky owner of a magical pet shop where Tom, a workaholic, cat-hating jerk of a dad (Kevin Spacey), comes to buy his daughter a kitty as a birthday present.
A Coincidence at the Movies
We went to an early showing of Pollock, a film about the painter Jackson Pollock played by the powerful actor Ed Harris.
In the theater when we arrived there were just two people, members of Alice’s church–Ann Whitney, a fine professional actor, and Bob Harris, Ed’s father, who’d had an entertainment career of his own on television, in several of Ed’s pictures, and in productions of the Northminster Players at the church.
Ann played the drugstore lady in the movie Home Alone, filmed in my neighborhood, to my inconvenience. I learned later that the Village of Winnetka gained no revenue from the production.
Christmas, 2016, gathering organized by John and Beth at their house. All of Joanne’s and my children, all their spouses were with us and all but 3 of our 12 grandchildren. A rare event, wonderful evening, 2 kinds of pasta sauce !
left to right: Brian, Susan, John, Jenifer, Rich, Laura Photo credit Jenna Neihengen
What do you do when you see a man with his pants down, his shoulders and torso wedged between the toilet and tub?
You laugh of course.
She had heard my shouts from the lst floor bathroom at her 2nd floor workbench. Came downstairs calling, “Where are you?”
When she’d gotten over the fun, she made some suggestions for getting me up, or out.
The one that worked was to pull my pants off, freeing my legs, so that I could roll over into the tub and use the bars there to stand up.
Why did I stumble backward and fall? Maybe I was just careless. Maybe I slipped on the dry bar of soap on the floor–strange it should be there. Strange also to see a cat toy in the toilet with some kleenex.
I checked. I did have my Medical Guardian device in my pocket so I could have pressed a button for help had Alice not been home.
A lady we know fell in her living room, broke a bone or two, and struggled to her telephone to call for help, forgetting the Med. Guard. button she was carrying.
I’m haunted by the story of the fat woman who fell in the shower, broke a leg, and sat in the tub for 2 days before someone found her.