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Circus Hippos

Updated on November 12, 2017

Circus Hippos

Hippopotamuses are relatively rare in the circus because they are large and relatively intractable animals. Hippos are one of the few animals that regularly kill people in the wild. However a trained hippo is undeniably an impressive sight to see and there are a number of famous examples around the world.

Photo credit: Damors / / CC BY-SA

In most cases a hippo is essentially a display animal, brought out with enticement of food treats. Besides being rather dangerous they have no history of domestication and are generally seem as very difficult to train (and perhaps not very bright).

Hippo Tricks

Drawing a Carriage

A hippo-drawn carriage is always a curious sight, as shown by a hippo in the Barnes Circus is shown below. The hippopotamus shown is Lotus, who appears in other pictures of the time with a large-wheeled carriage of a slightly different design, and you can see another shot of the rig here or here.

The Patterson Circus also had a hippo carriage around the same time.

Hippopotamus pulling a cart driven by Betty Jay. Barnes Circus, 1930.
Hippopotamus pulling a cart driven by Betty Jay. Barnes Circus, 1930.

Being Ridden

A hippopotamus provides a stable, if not comfortable, perch for humans or animals such as apes or moneys. You can still see a trainer ride a hippo at the Grand Cirque Royal circus. And a hippo with full tack with the Circus Sarrasani (1911). However I don't think it was at all wise to let kids get on the back of one, like in the poster below which is based on a photograph.

Well Known Circus Hippos


  • The John Robinson Circus toured the Untied States with a hippo called Congo.
  • The Sells-Floto Circus had an animal act where a monkey rode a hippopotamus.


  • Katy is a pygmy hippo who is part of the Carson and Barnes circus
  • The Belarus State Circus includes an act with three hippos.

Circus Hippo Myths

A story started to circulate online that a hippo ate a dwarf who had bounced off a trampoline into it's mouth. However this story is not true.


The use of large and dangerous exotic animals in circuses is increasingly controversial. So it will probably not be long before this practice is a long of the past, at least in developed nations,


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