A video of two abused elephants, Viola and Kelly, swaying repetitively while on display at the Circus World Museum is being spun as “dancing.” But these elephants aren’t dancing—they’re almost certainly exhibiting symptoms of “zoochosis,” a captivity-induced mental illness.
Elephants such as Viola and Kelly are kept chained almost constantly when they’re not performing for the circus, live in fear of being stabbed with bullhooks, and are denied everything that’s natural and important to them—and many of them eventually develop this neurotic behavior.
Elephants are highly intelligent and social animals who thrive in the company of their extended families. Births are joyous celebrations, and the deaths of loved ones are mourned. Youngsters are nurtured by everyone: Aunts babysit, grandmothers mentor, and siblings roughhouse and play with one another. Elephants experience the same joys and sorrows that we do. Experts note that this repetitive, obsessive behavior is never seen in wild elephants.
With no joy or comfort and nothing to do, Viola and Kelly, both of whom have suffered for years in the notoriously abusive Carson & Barnes Circus, sway in an effort to cope with their profound deprivation. Dancing is the last thing on their minds.