May 14, 2021

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Let the travel work for you

The coronavirus pandemic stranded this traveling family circus

4 min read


Camels Maui and Angeli broke out and walked freely in a meadow in Laren, Netherlands, where Circus Bolalou is stranded. (Michael Rhebergen)

When Steffie and Dennis Bossle arrived in the Dutch village of Laren in March, they assumed they would move along, their 30 animals in tow, within weeks. A busy season beckoned for their traveling circus.

But almost six months later, the family, with their animals and three young children, is still in Laren — and the coronavirus pandemic has turned what should have been their busiest time of year into a test of patience.

For Dennis, who grew up in a circus family traveling through Germany and the Netherlands, it is the longest he has ever spent in one place. “Usually, we’re always on the move,” he said in a phone interview during a consultation with the veterinarian treating his sick camel, Angeli.

Like circus artists and other performers around the world, the Bossles have been hit hard by the pandemic, which has forced them to cancel almost all events, even as their operating expenses have remained high.

Instead of performing before 500 spectators, Steffie and Dennis are juggling the challenges of an empty arena. They still have to feed their animals — including camels, cows, dogs, goats, horses and llamas — and care for them when they get sick, while raising their children and looking for new sources of income.

“The bills keep coming,” Steffie said.

Despite the pandemic, the circus has been allowed to organize some performances with social distancing restrictions for birthday parties and residents of nursing homes in the area in recent months. Laren residents have started to treat them like locals, Steffie said.

But the circumstances have begun to weigh heavily on the itinerant troupe. “The animals are more agitated than they usually are; they notice that something is missing,” Dennis said. When they hear music, he said, “they jump around, seemingly eager to get back into the circus tent.”

For Dennis, whose family has operated circuses for seven generations, closing shop is not an option. Starting Friday, as virus-related restrictions ease, the family will be able to resume performances under strict health and safety rules.

With rising case numbers across Europe, however, the next big circus season — Christmas — remains at risk.

“Most of the other towns are scared to let a circus into town,” Steffie said.

Some day, the family hopes, they will resume life the way they knew it before the pandemic.

But Angeli, the camel, won’t be with them. She died Tuesday morning.


Dennis trains one of the older horses in the meadow in Laren in April. “The animals need their exercises to stay fit, but without the shows, they’re slowly getting bored,” said Dennis. (Michael Rhebergen)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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