Posted: 30 June 2014. Updated: 1 July 2014
Government inaction to bring in a ban on wild animals in British circuses is taking its toll. Animals from the only big cat act to perform in a British circus have been filmed by ADI exhibiting behaviour which indicates they are not coping with their unnatural lives. The footage of a lion and tiger at Peter Jolly’s Circus shows the animals pacing up and down their tiny cells. Known as a stereotypy, this is one of a range of abnormal, repetitive behaviours not seen in the wild, but commonly observed in circuses, indicating compromised welfare and suffering. ADI calls the behaviour “circus madness”.
Two lions and three tigers travel with owner Thomas Chipperfield – a relative of the notorious Mary Chipperfield – and the circus. The oldest is a tigress called Nadia who is 18 years old. The other big cats are just 3 and 4 years old, and have many years in the circus ahead of them if the status quo remains. Sadly a fourth tiger, Neeka aged 17, was unable to enjoy what could have been her imminent retirement – she died last year soon after arriving in the UK from Ireland, where the act previously performed with Duffy’s Circus.
Nadia’s life in the circus contrasts starkly with the life she would have in the wild, where she would live a mainly solitary life with some contact with other tigers in a vast home territory – as much as 470 km2 – with space to run, swim, climb, hunt and enjoy all the freedoms she is entitled to enjoy. In the circus however, Nadia and the other big cats are forced to live in cages on the back of their transporter, known as a ‘beastwagon’, where they spend most of their time, in close proximity to one another. Although an outdoor enclosure is provided, when in use, only two cats are reportedly given access at a time.
In addition to the stereotypical behaviour observed in the big cats, ADI also documented prey animals in view of predators (llamas tethered in front of the big cats); animals which would normally live in herds were alone (an ankole, the oldest of the animals, and a camel); animals kept in unnatural social groups; animals kept tethered or in small stalls.
In the circus ring, wild animal acts included a fox being made to ‘ride’ on the back of a donkey, and a ‘parade’ featuring the ankole, camel and zebra. During the big cat act, two tigers and a lion were made to sit on their hind legs and jump between podiums. A tiger was also made to sit upright on a glitter ball, and a lion ‘kiss’ Chipperfield.
During the interval, children were invited to ride on the camel and photo opportunities were provided with the snakes. Camels are known to be difficult to handle and transport, and as a result of their size, strength, mobility and aggressiveness, they can be dangerous, with the ability to inflict fatal injuries. Meanwhile, snakes are known carriers of salmonella, which is of particular risk to pregnant women, the elderly and young children – the latter were documented posing with the animals.
The continued use of wild animals in circuses is widely opposed, and their unpopularity has seen the number of circuses with such acts plummet over the last 15 years to just two – Peter Jolly’s Circus and Circus Mondao.
Despite a commitment from Government to ban wild animals in circuses “at the earliest opportunity” in March 2012, and legislation being drafted in April 2013, progress has since stalled. A widely opposed licensing system was introduced last year as a temporary measure – during which the number of wild animals at Jolly’s increased from 15 to 18.