Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

The science on suffering: Husbandry and close confinement (3)

Posted: 17 May 2006

3.1 Elephants

Elephants in circuses are commonly shackled as a method of control and confinement, involving the chaining of one foreleg and one hind leg to the ground. This kind of fixation restricts the freedom of movement to such a degree that these animals are not able to exhibit most of their species’ typical behaviours. It also restricts social interactions because contact is limited to an immediate neighbouring elephant shackled beside them (Schmid, 1995). Although many circuses now claim to give their elephants some degree of regular access to a pen or outdoor enclosure, it is debatable how much time they can spend in such an enclosure when the circus is always on the move and the elephants have to be prepared for their performances. These animals also tend to be chained overnight, from the time that the workers finish their day, to when they arrive for work the next day – this can mean over 50% of their time (ADI observation data).

However even when elephants are able to spend time unchained, they are still subject to conditions of close confinement. Consequently stereotypies occur in captive elephants, regardless of the method of husbandry used.

  • One study of circus elephants found that, “Weaving was the most common stereotypic behaviour in the elephants, regardless of whether they were picketed or penned” (Friend & Parker, 1999).
  • Another study which saw stereotypic behaviours in all the elephants observed, concluded that “the welfare of closely confined elephants can be poor” (Kirden & Broom, 2002).
  • High levels of stereotypic and abnormal behaviours were observed in all the elephants involved in the study, which was undertaken in a circus holding facility. This study showed that stereotypic behaviour differs between individuals and that changing the methods of husbandry (i.e. shackling versus unshackling), only reduces stereotypies in some individuals. For some elephants it was impossible to identify one underlying cause of stereotypy. Many aspects of the circus environment were found to cause stereotypic behaviours in elephants, such as the lack of social contact, anticipation of food or other significant predictable event, the presence or absence of people, the size of their enclosure and their proximity to other specific individual elephants. It was also observed that as well as stereotypies, some circus elephants show other types of abnormal behaviours, such as an abnormal amount of time being inactive, probably as a result of being confined in an un-stimulating environment (Kirkden & Broom, 2002).

ADI observation data (videotaped) has shown stereotypic behaviours in all circus animal species studied.


Llama, Reindeer, Camel husbandry

Case Study: Great British Circus.
Observations 26, 27 & 29 March 2006.

{b]4 reindeer.

Housing: approx. 4 metres x 2.5 metres stall.

No exercise enclosure provided. During the period of observation the animals were not walked or exercised, neither did they appear in the show.

4 llamas.

Housing: In pairs in stalls approx. 2.5 metres x 2.5 metres.

No exercise enclosure provided. During the period of observation the animals were not walked or exercised at all.


6 Bactrian camels.

Housing: 5 camels kept in stall approx. 12 metres x 3.5 metres, another camel kept in a stall approx. 8 metres x 3.5 metres in a stable tent. The animals were also observed tethered to a lorry outside.

No exercise enclosure provided. During the period the animals were not walked or exercised, apart from their brief spell in the ring. One camel did not perform and therefore remained in its stall all of the time.

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