In January 2014, elephant trainer Joy Gärtner will perform with his elephants at the 38th International Circus Festival in Monte Carlo. While his presentation in the circus ring will be celebrated, hardly anyone will know that the elephant history of the Gärtner family is a dark story about death and animal cruelty. Elephants are neither gentle giants nor funny clowns, but rather wild animals that can be so dangerous that they shouldn`t be performing in a circus. The list of humans that have been killed or injured in zoos and circuses by elephants around the world is endless; the latest deaths occurred in France in August 2013 (84y.o. man killed by an escaped circus elephant) and in Dickerson Park Zoo/ Springfield, USA in October 2013 (elephant manager attacked and killed by a female elephant).
The Gärtner family is infamous for acquiring dangerous elephants. Both the father and the mother of Joy Gärtner paid for this with their lives: In 1982 his mother, Chiara Gärtner, was killed by an elephant and in 1996 his father, Josef Gärtner. Female elephant “Sabi”, whose attack caused Josef Gärtner's death, was later euthanized – the typical fate of a “killer elephant” that has become unmanageable and therefore useless for circus performances.
The elephant group which Joy Gärtner presents today includes elephants that are dangerous. Three of them, „Pira, „Belinda“ and „Diana“ are originally from the notorious German circus Giovanni Althoff, and before Joy Gärtner acquired them in 2005, two of the elephants had not been performing for years because their trainer Giovanni Althoff had lost control over them. Another female elephant, “Bebe”, purchased by Joy Gärtner from the Spanish Circus Americano (the Faggioni family) had not been performing in the ring since 2006 – which was the reason why the Circus Americano had tried to get rid of her for years.
Joy Gärtner, however, is totally ignorant of the danger his elephants present, even though he should know better. In summer 2012 while Joy Gärtner was touring with Irish Circus Courtney Bros., this ignorance almost had catastrophic consequences not just once, but twice. The public escape of elephant “Bebe” on March 27th in Cork attracted international press coverage, and just four days later a person was badly injured and almost died when he got between two fighting elephants. In December 2012, the next dramatic incident happened: while the Gärtner family stayed for performances in Riga (Latvia), Joy Gärtner´s young son was injured by an elephant. The police investigated the incident but didn`t press charges with the absurd reasoning that this was a private matter of the Gärtner family.
The public authorities of all countries involved are indifferently watching all this, and the disastrous past and acute danger for circus people and the public will be concealed in Monte Carlo as well. However, it is just a matter of time until the next person is injured. The audience remains oblivious to the potential danger because elephant performances are still presented as harmless amusement for human and animals alike, and the jury in Monte Carlo is still praising elephant acts against all better knowledge. It is long overdue that politicians and authorities act accordingly and prohibit elephants in circuses!