Animal Defenders International

 

Animal Defenders International

Wild animals in circuses? Questions and answers

Posted: 17 March 2009. Updated: 28 May 2014

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What’s wrong with the use of wild animals in circuses?
Circuses cannot hope to replicate a wild animal’s natural habitat, or create an environment where its natural behavioural repertoire can be satisfied, whilst on tour. In circumstances of constant travel with most of the year spent in temporary, collapsible accommodation, welfare will always be compromised. In addition, these are powerful animals and therefore the day-to-day husbandry and tricks they are forced to perform require high levels of control and discipline to ensure obedience, resulting in violence.

One academic paper concludes, “non-domesticated animals, suitable for circus life, should exhibit low space requirements, simple social structures, low cognitive function, non-specialist ecological requirements and an ability to be transported without adverse welfare effects. None of the commonest species exhibited by circuses, such as elephants and large felids, currently meet these criteria”.
Thus, the welfare of all animals in travelling circuses is inevitably compromised and, due to the need for animals to be constantly tethered, enclosed in small spaces and under tight control, there is a strong case that the use of all species should be stopped. The case for wild/exotic species is overwhelming.

How do we know animal welfare is compromised in travelling circuses?
Animal welfare can be measured by the five freedoms. These are freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behaviours; freedom from fear and distress.

ADI has conducted the most comprehensive studies of the use of animals in travelling circuses including scientific and empirical evidence demonstrating suffering and welfare deficits, as well as brutal treatment. Some of our evidence has been used in cruelty prosecutions.

ADI’s observations and evidence have found that for the majority of their time, animals in travelling circuses suffer major deficits in these freedoms. They endure restrictions on most, and sometimes all of these basic freedoms. Even with the best will in the world, the circumstances of the travelling circus cannot provide standards of welfare and husbandry that will enable animals to adequately express their natural behaviours to the level where optimum physical and psychological health is maintained. Thus by the most commonly accepted measure of welfare, animal circuses cause suffering.

What is wrong with the travelling circuses compared to other contexts where animals are kept?
The travelling environment presents very specific problems:

  • Welfare challenges presented by frequent transportation; necessarily small, collapsible, mobile and barren facilities.
  • Animal facilities are effectively storage, rather than a living environment.
  • Extended periods in transporters, beyond the length of individual journeys (animals remain in transporters whilst the circus is dismantled, and then after the journey, they cannot be released until the circus is set up, which can be the next day).
  • Public safety: potentially dangerous animals in close proximity to people, moving through public areas
  • Control of animals and potential for conflict results in a culture of violence (staff responsible for moving animals can be abusive due to the stress of moving uncooperative animals across open ground).

    In fact there is no other industry that keeps wild animals on the road in temporary accommodation for almost the entire year – generally about nine months. Nor is any other industry (including zoos) reliant on such close control of wild animals.
    The key differences between animals in permanent, static facilities such as zoos or suppliers of performing animals for films, television or other entertainment is the potential to improve the quality of the animal’s environment.

    Are circus animals physically abused?
    ADI has conducted undercover investigations inside circuses all over the world. Every time ADI field officers have worked behind the scenes inside the industry we have filmed systematic violence and abuse of the animals, particularly during training. Regardless of whether it is the UK, Europe, South America or the USA, no other part of the entertainment industry is so routinely associated with violence towards animals. Our evidence has also secured cruelty convictions in the UK and abroad.

    How many wild or exotic animals are there currently in UK circuses?
    The number varies from year to year. As of summer 2013, two circuses were touring with a total of 23 wild animals:

  • Circus Mondao: Two camels, two reindeer and one zebra
  • Peter Jolly’s Circus: Two lions, three tigers, one ankole, one camel, one fox, one raccoon, four reindeer, three snakes and two zebras

    Is there scientific evidence of animal suffering in captivity and during transport?
    There is a wealth of scientific studies on the effects of captivity and transport in a range of industries. The evidence is clear on a range of different issues associated with the travelling circus for example travel and transport, close confinement and restricted movement, restrictions on natural behaviours and inappropriate social groupings of animals.

    If an animal has no control over its environment, and cannot move about to exercise its body and mind, this causes it to start to perform repetitive, abnormal behaviours which animal behaviourists call ‘stereotypical’ or ‘displacement’ behaviours – these behaviours indicate that the animal’s welfare has been compromised, and that it is suffering as a result.

    For more detail of these conditions see the ADI report ‘Animals in Travelling Circuses: the science on suffering’, where we cross reference data from a range of animal industries to the travelling circus situation and explain how the various aspects of husbandry and training in the circus cause animal suffering.

    Why is the proposed Wild Animals in Circuses Bill based on ethical grounds and not scientific evidence?
    The Government’s “acceptance that there is no overriding welfare problem” is not based on the actual evidence, but on a flawed evidence gathering process conducted by Defra, during which both scientific and empirical evidence was excluded. This resulted in an inconclusive report where experts admitted that there was simply a lack of evidence under consideration in order to draw a robust conclusion.

    There is a wealth of scientific evidence about wild animals, and the effects of captivity and transport in animals. There is also empirical evidence available that could have been used: observational studies, field officer notes and video recordings. This evidence was robust enough to secure three criminal convictions for animal cruelty in the UK in 1999, and another in 2012. It is wrong to formulate policy based on a report where much of the evidence was excluded and other evidence not examined at all.

    There is general consensus amongst animal welfare experts that the welfare deficits in travelling circuses are related to the physical limitations on the facilities that can be provided for animals. To say there are no proven welfare impacts from repeated travelling, extended periods in transporters, increased handling, restrictions on behaviour, and living in temporary accommodation, is completely at odds not only with modern scientific knowledge, but also the majority of animal protection legislation around the world.

    The Government sets out its reasons for seeking to introduce the ban based on ethical and other policy considerations, including public opinion:

  • The use of wild animals in circuses is outdated now that there are other, better ways (e.g. modern zoos) to see and learn about wild animals
  • Using wild animals in circuses adds nothing to human understanding and conservation of wild animals and the natural environment
  • Circuses can still be enjoyed even if they do not include animals
  • People should recognise and respect the wild nature and innate value of wild animals
  • Using wild animals solely for circus performance is unbefitting to their wildness

    What are the implications and limitations of this ethically based draft Bill?
    As drafted, the Bill would not prevent a travelling circus from keeping wild animals and travelling with them. No offence would be committed so long as the animals were not used or exhibited as part of the circus performance.

    Legal opinion provided to ADI is that there is drafting merit in extending the ban to the keeping of wild animals for the following reasons:
    The ban would supersede the temporary Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012, which require circus operators to obtain a licence for keeping and using wild animals. As such, if the ban does not extend to keeping animals, once the Bill has passed and the regulations have been repealed, the restrictions on circus owners keeping wild animals will actually have been relaxed, as they will no longer be required to obtain a licence to keep such animals. It is unlikely such a relaxation is in line with the Government’s intentions.

    It would be particularly strange to permit circuses to keep a certain type of animal they have no legal right to use given that, by introducing the 2012 regulations, the Government acknowledged that, as a question of practice if nothing else, the keeping of such animals by circuses presented welfare challenges understood to be greater than those presented by other environments.

    By suggesting that the drafted Bill need not include non-performing animals travelling with circuses, EFRA ignores the ethical issues of keeping animals continually confined and travelling in small, temporary accommodation. Unless the space, enriched environment or substrate is available, animals may well spend their entire time confined in tents, small pens and trailers.

    Animals used for performances have been recorded spending unbearably long hours shut up in transporters. ADI’s studies over a period of 15 years have consistently found animals to be spending a large percentage of their time confined or tethered.

    ADI conducted a study of 13 UK travelling circuses and winter quarters and 5 foreign circuses showing UK animals. This extremely comprehensive study was conducted over 18 months and revealed shocking levels of confinement:

  • Large cats spent 75-99% of their lives in cages on the back of transporters
  • Sea lions spent 80% of their time in the truck
  • A black bear spent 39 hours continually in a transporter, only being let out for a performance for 15 minutes
  • A llama was tied up for 96% of the day.
  • Elephants spent over 70% of the day chained up.

    It is not only exotic species that fared badly:

  • Ponies spent 65-96% of the day tethered in small stalls, mainly with their face to the wall, whilst, at one circus, horses spent 23 hours a day in stables.

    During another study, an elephant spent 96% of her time chained in either the truck or the tent or, if available, chained in the field.
    A 2009 study of three elephants travelling with the Great British Circus found that the animals were chained to the ground by two legs, barely able to move, for up to 11 hours a day; zoo guidelines recommend minimal chaining, only for veterinary examinations and similar tasks.

    In 2011, Anne the elephant, whilst at Bobby Roberts Super Circus winter quarters, was chained to the ground by two legs for 24 hours a day; over the entire course of our investigation, over 3 ½ weeks, the chains on her legs were only swapped over twice.

    Is the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses Regulations 2012 not protection enough?
    The public, animal protectionists, Members of Parliament and indeed the circus industry were informed that these regulations were a temporary measure whilst the legislation was prepared. We have provided evidence of the severe limitations of these regulations and noted – with considerable public and Parliamentary support – that a clear prohibition is the only way to guarantee the protection of these animals.

    The regulatory system is not going to protect animals for a number of reasons: licensing and inspection cannot improve the environment of a travelling circus enough to ensure animal welfare, due to the nature of the travelling circus; investigations have shown that trained inspectors are unlikely to detect husbandry problems or physical abuse; variation between sites makes it difficult to implement common standards; worldwide, there is currently no system of regulation that has been shown to be effective in protecting circus animals from violence or suffering because of confinement.

    Are circus animas not protected already under the Animal Welfare Act 2006?
    A glaring example of the failure of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is the case of Anne the elephant, who was not protected from abuse, or from suffering through excessive chaining. Multiple inspections of Anne, while touring with the circus and in winter quarters, consistently failed to identify the abuse. It was the hidden camera that finally exposed her suffering.

    Furthermore, a conviction under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 did not guarantee Anne’s release from her plight. Although convicted of causing unnecessary suffering and not protecting Anne from harm, Mr Roberts her owner received a conditional discharge and, significantly, was not barred from working with animals. It was the intense media pressure that persuaded him to give her up voluntarily, shortly after the investigation was published and over a year before the trial. Otherwise, Anne would have remained in the Roberts’ barn until trial. Following the trial, Mr Roberts’ other animals remained under his care and control.

    Where does the public stand on this?
    Public opinion polls show consistent support for a ban over many years:

  • 2013 YouGov poll; the public were asked whether certain species should or should not be allowed to be used in travelling circuses. A clear majority of the public (57 - 81%) believe that lions, tigers, bears, elephants, snakes, camels, zebras and racoons should not be used in travelling circuses.
  • 2011 ComRes poll for ADI
    -71% of the public backed a ban.
  • 2011 Dods Parliamentary Poll for ADI asked 100 MPs whether the government should ban the use of wild animals in circuses rather than let the industry self-­‐regulate:
    - 63% of MPs agreed or strongly agreed
    - 14% disagreed or strongly disagreed
    - 6% did not respond.
  • 2005 MORI Poll for ADI showed:
    - 65% say ban all animal circus acts.
    - 80% say ban all wild animal circus acts.
    - Only 7% strongly opposed the call for a ban.
    This poll also revealed that more than twice as many people were visiting animal-­‐free circuses as opposed to those with animals.
    - In the previous 5 years, attendance at animal-­‐free circuses had risen from 6% to 16%.
    - Animal circuses remained slumped at 7% attendance.
    - The most popular forms of animal entertainment attended were: aquariums (50% of respondents), zoos (39%) and safari parks (22%).
  • 2004 NOP for ADI:
    - 63% of the public wanted to see all animal acts banned from circuses
    - Only 8% strongly disagreed
  • 1999 MORI poll for ADI:
    - 72% wanted wild animals banned

    What about political opinion?
    Numerous votes, EDMs and Parliamentary Questions, all calling for a wild animal ban, have been seen in Parliament over the years:

    EDM 1301 Wild Animals in Circuses (2014) “...... calls on the Government to reassert its commitment to ending this practice in the Queen’s Speech and to introduce a Bill in Parliament before the Summer Recess”. This EDM was only running for a two weeks due to early prorogation of Parliament.54 Signatories
    EDM 1860 Wild Animals In Circuses (2011) … urges the Government to use its powers under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to introduce a regulation banning the use of all wild animals in circuses without further delay.86 signatories
    EDM 403 Wild Animals in Circuses (2010) ..recognises that the only thing stopping this ban from coming into place is a decision by Ministers; and urges the Government to use its powers under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act to make a regulation banning the use of all wild animals in circuses.. This became the 7th most signed EDM in Parliament, out of 2292 motions tabled. 199 signatories
    EDM 2179 Wild Animals In Circuses (2009) .... urges the Government to maintain its commitment to ban the use of wild species in travelling circuses, and to restrict and limit the use of domesticated species under a strict, accountable and open licensing system96 signatories
    EDMs 965 & 976 Animal Welfare In Circuses (2008 & 2009)…and urges the Government to maintain its commitment to ban the use of wild [or non-domesticated in EDM976] species in travelling circuses and to restrict and limit the use of domesticated species under a strict, accountable and open licensing system187 signatories & 78 signatories
    EDM 1626 Animal Welfare (2006)…urges that the Animal Welfare Bill is used to end the use of animals in travelling circuses108 signatories
    EDM 468 Circus Animal Welfare (2005)…calls on the Government to introduce measures to end the use of wild animals in circuses in the forthcoming Animal Welfare Bill 107 signatories
    EDMs 714 & 767 Cruelty to Animals (1999) Both criticising the lenient sentencing in the Chipperfield trial76 signatories & 61 signatories
    EDM 787 & 64 Animal Defenders and Circus Animals (1998)…and calls for a ban on the use of animals in travellingcircuses…214 signatories & 192 signatories

    To set aside this wealth of public opinion now, would seem perverse.

    What are the economic and employment consequence of a ban?
    No one is saying ‘end circuses.’ Rather, let’s take animals out of circuses and let the humans do the entertaining. This has economic benefits; ADI has found that as animal circuses close, the trend is that animal-free circuses replace them – between 1996 and 2000, the number of UK animal circuses plunged from 22 to 11, whilst the number of animal-free circuses rose from 9 to 23. The circus industry can still thrive and even increase overall attendance, without the stigma of animal suffering. For example, in the US alone, Cirque du Soleil now has 19 shows in 271 cities, generating an estimated $810 million a year in the US.

    What about tradition?
    The show can go on without the suffering of animals. Indeed wild animals are a relatively recent addition to the travelling show. Surely, no one defends elephants living in chains and tigers living in cages on the backs of lorries as an acceptable facet of traditional British life? The bottom line is, animal welfare will always be compromised in the travelling circus and the tricks that animals perform do not provide an educational or genuinely life-enriching experience for children. In fact these performances teach disrespect for other species. Such treatment of defenceless animals degrades our society.

    Animals in circuses belong in the past, to a time when humans were ignorant about the other species However, over the past one hundred years human understanding has grown – science can now tell us about the intelligence of other species, their means of communication, tool making, culture, family bonds and emotions. Psychological, behavioural and environmental studies have helped us understand their world. With this greater knowledge of the capacity for suffering in our fellow creatures, it is no longer acceptable for us to abuse animals in circuses, for entertainment. It is not the behaviour of a civilized, advanced society.

    Would it not harm an animal to separate it from its lifelong keeper?
    This assumes that the keeper/trainer has a close and loving bond with the animal, that the animal likewise enjoys that bond and prefers it to its own kind, and that the animal is treated well.

    Shortly after ADI exposed the horrific violence that was meted out to Anne the elephant at the winter quarters of the Bobby Roberts Super Circus, the Roberts’ voluntarily handed over the elephant to a safari park, whilst they were being reported in the media as saying “She is part of the family” and that “Anne has been with us since childhood and she is like another child to us. It will break our hearts to move her”.

    Yet the evidence in the case showed that during the period of the filming of events in the barn, Mrs Roberts had not entered the barn at all, and Mr Roberts entered twice, to supervise Anne’s chains being swapped from one leg to the other.

    One year on, the safari park reported that “The difference and improvement in skin condition, feet, trunk, ears and general muscle tone is clear to see”.

    What will happen to the animals if they cannot be used in circuses?
    The numbers are very small and the animal protection groups involved are committed to doing what is necessary to safeguard the future of the animals. ADI has already offered to relocate wild animals including the tigers and the elephant from the UK circuses – but these offers have been rejected.

    In reality, the circuses are most likely to sell their animals to zoos or similar institutions as occurred when the Great British Circus closed in February 2013 and shipped its tigers to Ireland to perform with the Courtney Brothers Circus.

    © Animal Defenders International 2017