Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

The science on suffering: Summary of scientific case (2)

Posted: 17 May 2006


It is important to remember that in a circus–

  • living space is necessarily limited to the back of a lorry;
  • exercise enclosures, if erected, are frequently not used by some (or all) of the animals due to time restrictions in the working day; not enough space; difficult, competitive or aggressive animals;
  • animals are frequently being transported to different parts of the country;
  • animals are left shut in their transporters for many hours longer than a journey has taken to complete;
  • animals are vulnerable to abuse due to inadequately trained staff, working under time pressure.

The balance of this evidence suggests that the horse is a sentinel for suffering.

Whilst horses have a long-established relationship with humans, there is clear evidence of the suffering of horses in all aspects of circus life. Therefore, how much more will other species, especially those more inherently fearful of humans, suffer?

We have seen no evidence of an absence of suffering as a result of the conditions imposed on animals in travelling circuses. Which begs the question, how much should a civilised society allow animals to endure, for the sake of entertainment?


The case of Narla

Tigers are naturally solitary animals, normally coming together only for mating. However in the circus they are kept in groups in crowded conditions, and sometimes the large cat species are even grouped together.

Narla, a lioness with Circus Harlequin (now known as The Great British Circus) was attacked and mauled by a male tiger. She was described by workers as being “close to death". Narla was treated for her injuries by her presenter, Alex Lacey (a director of the circus), and remained on tour.


At the time the circus was advertising itself as “RSPCA Inspected". By coincidence a local RSPCA inspector paid a visit shortly after the attack. The workers quickly hid the semi-conscious Narla behind bales of straw. The RSPCA official stood just feet from the stricken lioness chatting to the circus workers, completely unaware of her presence.

The incident confirms several problems: The dangers of attack and injury to big cats when travelling with circuses through workers’ ignorance of the needs of the animals in their care; that sick and injured animals continue to tour; the temporary nature of the circus encampment with its multiple vehicles, cages, and equipment make the concealment of a sick animal relatively easy.

Back Next

Click here for Animal circuses: The facts

© Animal Defenders International 2019