Circus Princess Blog

About lions in the show business

“King Tonga, the white lion, reveals its predators sharp teeth. With determination to bring an end to this spectacle, it leaps towards its trainer, Martin Lacey Jr. Will King Tonga eat up the English man? The white lion reaches towards its tamer´s head, ready to bite, showing his pink gums, growling with a low voice. King Tonga stretches its jaw wide and sticks out its long tongue- and then what? -Slurps. The scary predator just licks the face of Martin, jus as a puppy would.”

One of the most debated and ever hot topics in the show business is the participation of  wild animal acts. Even though my personal history and educational path in the performance field is classified as new circus movement  excluding animal acts, I have also performed in famous European circuses and circus festivals. In these prestigious circuses, there must be a tiger or a lion tamer with his gracious cats in the program.

In Finland, our government has banned the wild animal acts which resulted into a severe popularity drop of the traditional circuses. Now our Finnish animal activists try to ban the dolphin show in Tampere Amusement Park. In Central and Southern Europe, the tradition to work with animals is still popular despite the many manifestations of animal activists. 

To work with any animal act is extremely time consuming work.  Martin Lacey Jr, one of the best circus performers of this century, says, he knows everything about lions. I believe him, and I dedicate this blog to Martin. The trainer must know every detail about animals and their condition to be able to work closely with them in the ring. To bring a sick, hungry, angry or otherwise unstable animal into the show could be a fatal error. The trainer is in charge of his life as well as the life of his animals and their well-being, diet and conditions. All his cats are surveyed by him daily and by their veterinarian regularly. 

One lion eats about 5-6 kilos of meat a day. They must have large, hygienic cages to rest and a zoo-yard to exercise as well as some extra space to practice the act. Martin's lions were already born in captivity. It costs the earth to keep and maintain lions. In addition, the trainers must employ help: for one act there could be 5-7 “maintenance boys” working for the animal trainer.

The decision to become an animal trainer is a decision made by the heart; the tamers usually follow the traditions passed on by previous circus generations.

When I worked with Martin Lacey Jr, I was stunned by the the living conditions of his lions, they exceed by far the conditions offered by some European zoos. For me, his lions are the most beautiful, healthy-looking and spectacular lions I have ever seen- full catered and exercised.

The performance is based on the reflects of the lions. Martin does not push them to perform unnatural tricks, nor he wears any safety harnesses or have a security guard with a pistol stand-by. I witnessed how he trained  them with such a paternal patience that would make any dad a hero.  King Tonga with his many concubines and babies are a fantastic sight. As a reminder of the precarious nature of his lions, Martin carries a deep scar on his cheek. With that said, Martin Lacey is an icon, and his lions are a source of inspiration for many artists and spectators, children and adults alike, regardless of their cultural back-ground or gender. Just that, is a life-time achievement. At the gates of the circus, he is greeted by animal activists every day with their own “displays”. It is not for the “payment”, that he puts up with it all that, but for the belief in his own work, his rarely exercised art form.

At least for Lacey’s Lions, the things are looking pretty well. To read more about Martin Lacey Jr:,_Jr


Martin Lacey with his new born lion family

© Circus Princess 2014