What is the circus but a show? When you are dealing with animal acts, there are shows of all kinds all around the world. Animals are put on display at SeaWorld, in casinos, at zoos and of course, classic circuses. The circus atmosphere and feel is apparent these days although the events are dying breeds. The emergence of circuses came long ago and it was focused on animals, in particular, horses and equestrian talents. “Big Tops” have evolved over the years which have featured people with amazing abilities joining forces with the animal acts. Many people confused old school carnivals with circuses. Carnivals were often focused on the people who had special abilities who were also labeled “freaks” by some. That’s how the term “carnys or carnies” came about.
As circuses have evolved over the years, they have combined some elements of carnivals and added more and more people. Although these days, circuses are going out of style and are slowly but surely closing their doors. But the original idea behind circuses and animal performances continues on in many forms all across the world. Animal trainers have come together to showcase their talents as they lead animals in performances. From water to land, these trainers often put animals through extensive training bordering on abusive. The animal’s safety and trainer alike are both at risk during some of this training. Assessing risk of both the trainers and animals alike is difficult since most of their activities happen behind closed doors. But when things go wrong in front of a crowd, that’s when things go crazy. These circus atmosphere truly turns into a circus.
15. Irem Shrine Circus
The Irem Shrine Circus was performing in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania when something went terribly wrong. The incident happened while the circus wasn’t open, but it didn’t change the tragedy. Of course, elephants were used long ago in wars because of their power and durability. They are beautiful, massive creatures. But what happened on this day surprised the entire circus staff. The trainer was in the safe elephant habitat when the massive creature got startled and kicked his trainer. The trainer flew over 20 feet and died from the injuries. Nobody knows exactly what scared the elephant to cause it to attack its trainer, but the accident was one that has contributed to the show moving away from animals.
14. Bengal Tiger Attack in Mexico
Bengal tigers are nothing to mess with. The creatures are incredibly powerful and can turn at any moment. Despite being trained, nobody can take for granted the danger these powerful creatures possess. Mexico was the site of the incredible and awful incident that occurred in front of a live audience who came to see the circus. American trainer, Alexander Crispin, was working for Circo Suarez in Sonora, Mexico. As Crispin performed with two of his cats, he circled the arena with them. The performance went awry when one of the tigers lunged at the trainer in front of the audience and suffered terrible injuries that included bites to the neck and scratches. Crispin was rushed away as the horrified audience looked on and died en route to the hospital.
13. Tilikum’s Attack
The killer whale show at SeaWorld is often one of the most highly anticipated and watched shows in the water park. Shamu, as the legacy of these killer whales are referred to as, is a show in which the trainers work with these massive beasts known as predators across the ocean deep. They are trained in the confines of SeaWorld with the hopes of them being amazing performers for their audiences. The show was named “Dine With Shamu” and it is a show that Tilikum has performed many times in. Along with trainer Dawn Brancheau, the show was set to go as normal until the finale went deadly wrong. Brancheau was attacked during the show and her injuries were long and extensive. She sustained a broken jaw, broken neck, dislocated elbow, had her left arm dismembered and part of her scalp completely torn off. The extent of the injury was incredible and other trainers were quoted as stating that the Orca knew what he was doing. In fact, it wasn’t the first time Tilikum killed.
12. The “Tiger Whisperer” Attacked
When you are a referred to as the “Tiger Whisperer,” we’re guessing you have some pretty good experience when it comes to taming some of the most dangerous and wildest beasts on the planet. But anyone who knows anything about tigers knows two things: they are big and they have REALLY big teeth. That combination makes them the kind of pet you don’t want to hang around (or ideally, not a pet at all). The animal trainer, Stacey Konwser, was a Florida zookeeper at Palm Beach Zoo. She got mauled by a 13-year-old Malayan tiger while working with him in an area off-limits. She trained these tigers day in and day out and never saw the rare breed coming. The mauling was a sad day.
11. Rocky the Bear
Being a bear trainer is like trying to control a runaway train. This is the case of a famous bear trainer and his famous bear, Rocky. The bear even appeared in a Hollywood movie, the Will Ferrell comedy “Semi-Pro.” Rocky isn’t the only famous animal trained at the Predators in Action Center. They are known for working with some of the most dangerous creatures on earth including lions along with the bears. Rocky, coming in at 700 pounds and over 7 feet tall is quite imposing, but trainer, Stephan Miller, was used to dealing with him. The center has had animals that were featured in such film titles as “Gladiator” and “The Last Samurai.” The bear grabbed his trusted trainer by the neck and hurled him around, inflicting deadly injuries Miller would not recover from.
10. Mary the Elephant
Mary the Elephant is such a kind name for an elephant. But being anywhere near an elephant can be a tad bit dangerous. the giant Asian elephant was a tremendous circus performer. She was trained to play instruments and throws baseballs. That all sounds well and good, but Mary the Elephant would soon learn another name, “Murderous Mary.” The man, Red Eldridge, was leading the elephant through the parade. He was a man who had no experience in doing so. Upon riding atop Mary, he took out a hook as she nibbled on a watermelon and thought it would be funny to poke her behind the ear with a hook. Bad move, dude. Mary got pissed and grabbed him with her trunk, tossing his body in the air like a rag doll. For good measure, she marched over and stopped on his head, crushing it. The scene was gruesome. They tragically and publicly hung the elephant by the neck.
9. The Snake King
It’s always nice to acquire well-earned nicknames. They represent the ability of someone to doing something very special. However, when things end tragically, the nickname becomes something far worse. It is a haunting reminder of man’s hubris. That is the case with the “snake king.” Ali Khan Samsudin was performing in Kuala Lumpur. He commanded the most dangerous snakes in the world. But on a tragic day on stage, Samsudin was bit on the left hand by his King Cobra during his last performance. He was a fourth generation talented snake trainer. It wasn’t the first time Samsudin was bit by a snake, but it would be the last. He has been in the Guinness Record books for being in a glass enclosure with 5,000 scorpions for 21 days. He also lived with 400 snakes for 40 days. But this bite was his last.
8. The Wolf Pack
It’s never good to encounter a pack of wolves. Wolves are known for their abilities to attack and kill. There is no doubt they are dangerous creatures. So in June 2012, when a Kolmarden Wildlife Park trainer was brutally attacked, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that the pack of wolves were the cause. The wildlife park is one of Sweden’s most exciting tourists attractions. But on this day, things went terribly wrong in the wolf den. The trainer who raised them from birth told her colleagues she was heading into the den to make contact with the wolves as this was routine for her. But when she didn’t return, her colleagues rushed over to the wolf enclosure to find that the 8 wolves had mauled the trainer to death.
7. Keto the Killer Whale
Loro Parque in the Canary Islands is a beautiful aquatic treat, rivalling SeaWorld in San Diego, California. The zoological park has dolphins, sea lions, birds and killer whales. Alexis Martinez had been working around the clock training the killer whales in preparation of a special Christmas Eve show. It was the morning of December 24, 2009 when Alexis Martinez was going through his usual training routine working with the whales when Keto the killer whale suddenly charged him. The whale used his nose to strike Martinez and then dragged him down to the bottom of the pool, pinning him forcibly to the bottom. After three minutes submerged, Keto brought the lifeless body of Martinez back up to the surface.
6. Massarti the Lion Trainer
It is just common sense not to mess with the king of the jungle. But somehow, there are those who are stubborn and believe they can master the incredible feat of controlling a powerful beast. Ilmader’s Circus was the scene and it was the last show of the night. The lion tamer, Massarti, had wowed all the town with his amazing performances and lion taming abilities. But at 10:30pm, the show abruptly came to an end when he was attacked by the lions while putting on his show. In front of the audience, Massarti was attacked by all the lions. Now, Massarti only had one arm remaining to begin the show, due to having the other torn off by a lion ten years prior. This made Massarti a prime attraction. But this night, it wasn’t just a limb he lost, he lost his life.
5. Aleksey Pinko, Lion Tamer
Again and again, you have to wonder about people trying to tame the wildest and strongest animals that walk the face of this earth. Aleksey Pinko was just that kind of trainer. He had a morbid way of enjoying his time with his lion. It was known as the “Dance of Death,” where he literally placed his hands on the lions and they placed their massive paws upon his shoulders and the two danced with one another. The extraordinary dance was seen before an amazed audience and the highlight of the Ukrainian Circus. The lions also sat on stools during the performance, each waiting for their turn to perform with Pinko. But on this day, one of the males did not particularly feel like performing and instead attacked Pinko. The lion bit and clawed at Pinko. Fortunately for Pinko, he survived with superficial wounds.
4. MGM Lion Goes After Trainer
Lion after lion enjoy attacking their trainers but it doesn’t stop the egos of these trainers from coming back for more and challenging one of the most powerful land animals on earth. MGM is a massive company whose famed lion is literally the moniker of their company. There have been seven different lions that have been in the MGM logo. There was an old tale about the original lion attacking and killing both its trainer and two assistants. But that has been denied for ages. What is true, however, is the MGM Grand Hotel Casino hosting a lion habitat in which numerous trainers were attacked. Due to the many attacks, the MGM Grand had to close the habitat down for good.
3. Siegfried and Roy
Las Vegas, Nevada has long been known for having some of the most entertaining shows in the world. The Mirage Resort and Casino in Las Vegas were host to two of the most famous of those entertainers, Siegfried and Roy. The two Germans were the headliners on the Las Vegas Strip from 1990 until Roy’s tragic injury in 2003. The two trained both white lions and tigers. Roy Horn was injured on stage during a show on October 3, 2003. Roy was bitten on the neck. There are conflicting reports of what led up to the tiger taking Roy in his mouth, but one report was that Roy convulsed in a seizure-like manner on stage and the tiger was startled. The tiger carried Roy off the stage by the neck, the entire audience stunned and horrified. This was the most public attack ever, despite differing opinions on what happened on stage.
2. Egyptian Live Lion Attack
When a lion performing on a show attacks its trainer live before an audience, there is a wild reaction that often occurs. And when that trainer is able to survive the attack and actually walk off stage, you have to believe a guardian angel was at the show. This was the case in the Egyptian circus run by Faten El-Helw. She was both the owner of the circus and the lion trainer. She performed live with her lions but on a fateful night in 2004, the lion tamer was attacked while on stage. The incident was loaded onto YouTube and immediately was seen by hundreds of thousands of people instantly. While El-Helw was bobbing to music and waving to the crowd while in the lion cage, one of the beasts sitting atop a chair erupted off and tackled her to the ground, its body fully encompassing hers. She was hurt but not fatally. In an ironic twist, her husband was attacked by one of the lions he was training in 2004, but he was not so lucky. He died from his injuries…so this one is kind of a 2 for 1.
1. Indonesian Elephant Goes Crazy
There are some performances that go wrong that leave the audience gasping. Some involve terror through the animal turning on its trainer and badly wounding it prey. Some of the trainers, although moving at the moment of attack, end up dying later on. But when you piss off an elephant and get killed in front of a large audience, it’s going to be one of our top incidents on this list. So is the case in Indonesia during a performance. It was April 7th, 2003, and the circus was live. The elephant trainer was having fun during his performance and decided to stick his head inside the mouth of the giant beast. The elephant was not amused and in an extraordinary act, stabbed his trainer with its giant tusk as if they were in a horror movie. The trainer was skewered by the elephant and killed before hundreds of spectators, most of them children. The gist is, man may be able to train animals to do a few tricks, but they cannot ever control them. And wild animals can always go wild.