Returning to Wild?

Four Lions’ Journey from Circus to “Sanctuary”


  • Elizabeth Vander Meer



Four lions, Skinny, Little, Sid and Sammy, have been subjected to dramatic changes as a result of a shifting political landscape. Each experienced a life of performance in a travelling French circus until authorities seized them in Belgium after the country enacted a ban on use of wild animals in circuses in 2014. The lions then spent almost two years in temporary rescue in Belgium awaiting transport to a permanent home at a UK zoo. These lions as individuals and their movement from circus to “sanctuary” with a conception that they are being returned to a more “wild life” are the subject of this multi-species, multi-sited ethnography. The temporary rescue context is considered in terms of animal viewing, lion-human interactions and particular physical spaces of captivity, while findings in circus and zoo sites serve as comparison and contrast.


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Author Biography

Elizabeth Vander Meer

Elizabeth Vander Meer has a PhD in Environmental Policy and Ethics from Lancaster University in the UK, an Anthrozoology MA from the University of Exeter, and is now in the second year of a PhD in Anthrozoology at Exeter. Her research is multidisciplinary, drawing on anthropology, compassionate conservation, performance studies, philosophy and social theory. She combines interests in biodiversity conservation with human-animal studies, conducting multispecies ethnographic studies that focus on human-wildlife conflict and co-existence and captive wild animals in circuses, rescue centers and zoos.




How to Cite

Vander Meer, Elizabeth. 2019. “Returning to Wild? Four Lions’ Journey from Circus to ‘Sanctuary’”. Humanimalia 10 (2):180-202.