Gunther Gebel-Williams

From the list of elephant persons Family: Gebel

Gunther Gebel-Williams
Gunther  Gebel

Personal details

Spouse(s) 1968 - 2001 Sigrid Neubauer

Spouse(s) 1961 - 1967 Jeanette Williams

Country United States

Title elephant trainer 1969-1990
Location at Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus (Red Unit) in United States

Title elephant trainer 1956-1968
Location at Circus Williams in Germany

Title apprentice keeper 1947-1956
Location at Circus Williams in Germany

Relevant literature

Biography details

Gunther Gebel , circus animal trainer in United States

Born 1934-09-12 in Germany dead 2001-07-19 in United States .

Gunther was born with the family name Gebel in the german town of Schweidnitz, now part of Poland. His father, Max Gebel, was a scenic carpenter and his mother, Elfriede, a theater seamstress.

In 1947, Circus Williams was looking for a seamstress: Elfriede took the job, and Gunther Gebel, age thirteen, entered the world of Circus Williams, where he would spend the next two decades of his life. His widowed mother worked at Circus Williams as taylor. Elfriede left after a few weeks, but left Gunther in the care of the Williamses as an apprentice with a five-year contract and Gunther started to help with the animals from young age.

Gunther learned abouth horses from Harry Williams, and about large carnivor training from Charly Baumann and Gerd Siemoneit.
1950-12-22: During christmas engagement for Tom Arnold at the Harringay Arena in London, Harry Williams had an accident, he was violently ejected from his chariot.
1951-01-10: Harry Williams died of his injuries.
1951: Carola Williams leased her circus to Harry Barley, and sent Gunther to her brother, Franz Althoff, from whom Gunther learned how to train elephants.
1952: Carola took charge of her circus again, together with her brother Adolf Althoff, and she gave more resonsibilities to her adopted son Gunther Gebel-Williams, while her own children was not traveling with the circus due to their education. Gunther improved his elephant training from Adolf Althoff.
1956: Adolf Althoff left the circus, and 22 years old Gunther now took over the elephants from him. He also developed further with horses, being schooled by Carolas father, Dominik Althoff (1883-1974).

Gunther Gebel-Williams

1956: Gunther Gebel-Williams at Circus Williams 1956 in Erlangen in Germany
1960: Alfons Williams died in a car accident in Belgium.

Gunther Gebel-Williams
Circus Williams in Berlin, 1960

1961: At sixteen, Gunther became leader of the circus, after Harry Williams died in the ring, and he changed his family name to Gebel-Williams after he married Harry Williams and Carolas daughter Jeanette Williams.

Gunther Gebel-Williams

Circus Willams elephants and Gunther Gebel-Williams

1961: The circus had 11 elephants, showed in the ring by Gunther.
1962: Gunther trained an act with the african elephant Kongo and his trusted tiger Bengali.

Records about Gunther Gebel-Williams from William "Buckles" Woodcocks Blog at
1963: In November 1963 in Turin Gunter and Willy Togni presented a Group of 26 elephants, they united the Williams and Togni elephants in a single act. 11 of them were from Williams, the other owned by Togni: This is one of the largest ever elephant presentations for a single routined act in a same space.
Gunther Gebel-WilliamsThe peoples in the ring are the brothers of Enis Togni, Bruno Togni and Willy Togni, their father Ferdinando Togni and Gunther Gebel Williams. This was also the world premiere of the Togni-Castilla-Williams association of Circo Americano (the name existed in Spain by 1956, but as a one-ring by Castilla).
Raffaele De Ritis, Italy.

1967: Jeanette Williams and Gunther Gebel-Williams divorced, and Gunther married Sigrid Neubauer (born 8 September 1943), a former model from Berlin, who had the daughter Tina (born 16 November 1962 in Berlin) from an earlier marriage.

In 1968 Circus Williams were famous for one of the best animal acts in Europe

From "The Greatest Showman on Earth," Sports Illustrated, 09/26/1977
As Gebel-Williams' fame spread, so did his horizons. John Ringling North was the first to approach him about transferring his animal acts to America, but the timing was wrong. "I was too young," Gunther says. "When Irvin Feld came, I was somebody."

In the fall of 1968 Gebel-Williams flew to San Diego to see The Greatest Show on Earth for the first time. He remembers noticing how fat the elephants were, how they seemed to enjoy being inside the buildings and the train cars. It was good that nobody was skinny, he thought. Everybody was well fed. When GG-W returned to Germany, Henry Schroer remembers him sitting down and thinking for a long time. Finally he stood up and said, "It is O.K. We go."
Gunther Gebel-WilliamsGunther and Henry Schroer two years before they left Germany for America.

Irvin Feld bought the circus for $2 millions, and Gunther became 1969 engaged as animal trainer at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The entire Circus Williams went over the Atlantic ocean with the Swedish containership "Atlantic Saga", with 17 elephants, 9 tigers and 25 horses. This became the Ringling Red Unit, and Circus Williams did not exist anymore.

Gunther Gebel-WilliamsGunter on RBBB Circus in USA

Gunther Gebel-WilliamsGunter with his son Mark Oliver Gebel


Total: 1 children

  1. Mark Oliver Gebel.

Reference list


Koehl, Dan, (2024). animal trainer Gunther Gebel in United States. Elephant Encyclopedia, available online retrieved 24 April 2024 at (archived at the Wayback machine)

Sources used for this article is among others:

Selected publications

Links about Mark Oliver Gebel

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Categories animal trainer | circus | Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus (Red Unit) | Gebel family | Born 1934 | Dead 2001 | People from United States

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