Legal dispute looms over last circus elephant’s retirement

Buba is still a draw, even though she no longer performs. Photo: ANP/ HH / Berlinda van Dam
Buba is still a draw, even though she no longer performs. Photo: ANP/ HH / Berlinda van Dam

The fate of the Netherlands’ last circus elephant hangs in the balance again now that animal rights organisations have threatened to launch a legal challenge against the decision to leave Buba in the custody of its travelling circus owners.

Agriculture minister Carola Schouten decided on Tuesday that 45-year-old African elephant Buba could stay with the Freiwald family following a majority vote by MPs.

Wild animals have been banned from performing in circuses and travelling with them since 2015 but an exception was made for Buba, who has been with the family for 30 years.

One of the possibilities looked at by Schouten was to send Buba to a new elephant sanctuary in France but the fact that the animal would be the only inhabitant put paid to the idea.

Organisations Animal Rights and Bite Back have slated the agriculture minister’s decision and are threatening court action. ‘That MPs who are not experts on these matters want to condemn Buba to a life as a living advertisement for a circus that is on its last legs is nothing short of populism,’ a spokesman told local broadcaster Limburg1.

The organisations think the French refuge is a viable solution despite the lack of company for Buba, who they say will be able to spend the rest of her life in a more natural environment there.

‘There is no reason to give the circus another respite despite the convoluted reasoning of the minister. Buba’s interests are being sacrificed to cheap sentiment by a spineless minister,’ the spokesman said.

The coronavirus crisis has put the Dutch-German circus, temporarily hold up on private land in Beringe in Limburg, in dire financial straits. Looking after Buba alone costs €70,000 a year. The lifespan of an elephant is around 60 years on average.

The owners hope the government will support them financially. ‘School children could come and see Buba in an educational setting where she won’t perform and that may also contribute to her keep’, a spokesman for the Freiwald family said.

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