Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Animals in UK Circuses


Animal Defenders International (ADI) welcomes the Government’s initiative to overhaul existing animal welfare legislation, including the Protection of Animals Acts, and the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925. In light of the overwhelming evidence we have produced of animal abuse and suffering in the circus industry, ADI hopes that the opportunity will be taken to end the use of animals with travelling circuses in the UK. Circus animals spend almost their entire lives on the road, travelling from one makeshift encampment to another. With the best will in the world, circuses cannot provide adequate facilities for the animals in their care.

In 1998, our report on the use of animals in circuses shocked many, and resulted in the cruelty convictions of top circus trainer Mary Chipperfield, her husband, and their elephant keeper. During 2002, ADI surveyed circuses in the UK to observe any changes in the industry, and review animal welfare issues.

Our latest findings reaffirm the case for a ban on animal circuses, and also indicate that now is the best time for such action:

Husbandry remains substandard; deprived environments; long journey times; lack of exercise; herd animals kept alone
The number of animals in circuses is at its lowest for at least a decade
Just 12 circuses with animals toured the mainland UK in 2002
There are now more animal-free circuses than ever before.

Decline in popularity and move towards animal-free circuses
Since the launch of the ADI “Ugliest Show on Earth” report in 1998, the public has turned away from animal circuses. There has been a significant shift away from the use of animals; the number of animal-free circuses has more than doubled, from 10 in 1997 to 21 in 2002. By contrast, the number of circuses using animals has almost halved, from 23 in 1997 to 12 in 2002.

With domestic animals only
With exotic animals

With domestic animals only
With exotic animals

The rise in the number of animal-free circuses demonstrates that the industry can be sustained without the use of animals. Furthermore, highly successful human-only circuses such as Cirque du Soleil have shown that non-animal shows can reach new audiences.

A random survey of audience numbers attending animal circuses in 2002, showed no correlation between animal numbers and audience.

Zippos’ show, which included horses, attracted the largest audience (around 700 people), with a total of 16 animals. Jay Miller’s Circus exhibited just one pony, but drew the second highest audience (around 300 people). The circus with the largest animal menagerie, Jolly’s (44 animals) attracted the smallest audience (under 50).

Touring with animals which are not performing has continued; for example Santus Circus had 2 goats, 5 ponies, a donkey and 4 geese, none performed. Indeed flyers promoting the show stated: “No animals".

Species of animals in UK circuses
There has been a general shift away from animal acts, with the most marked decline being the use of exotic species. In 1997, 16 elephants were touring the UK, by 2002, this had plunged to just one (sick) elephant with Bobby Roberts Circus which did not perform in the show. This appears to be a response to public disquiet about the appearance of certain species in circus shows, regardless of accommodation issues.

For simplicity, we have defined as “domestic animals” those species used traditionally in the UK as livestock, or where domestication dates back centuries. Domestic species appearing with circuses during this study were: Horse/pony; donkey; goat; goose; dog; duck.

We have defined exotic animals in circuses as those species which have not been bred as livestock in the UK: these are dove; budgerigar; elephant; zebra; bear; camel; llama; snake; tiger; African cow; macaw. Camels have been placed in the “exotic” section because although they are used as riding/pack animals in some countries, they are not indigenous to the UK. Camels suffer much abuse in circuses, because a high degree of coercion and attendant violence is required to get them to perform simple tricks such as a pirouette. During the trial of Mary Chipperfield Cawley it was established that because camels can be difficult animals to get into a ring, it was not possible within the current legislation to secure a conviction for cruelty; despite that Cawley had been videotaped kicking, tail twisting, and beating a camel with a large stick. It was concluded that such abuse was legal, in order to get the animal to comply.

Use of violence for control, and training
The ADI 1996-98 undercover investigation of UK animal circuses found that day-to-day violence towards animals in the circus industry is both accepted, and commonplace. Violence was used both during training sessions and to move animals about whilst feeding, cleaning, etc. ADI video shows various animals being beaten or struck with metal bars, tent poles and whips. The majority of this violence was legal then and remains so now.

The high profile prosecution of Mary Chipperfield Cawley, her husband Roger Cawley (a government zoo inspector at the time, and a member of the Association of Circus Proprietors), and their elephant keeper Michael “Steve” Gills, has given many to misunderstand the legal position. The successful convictions were interpreted as a demonstration that the present legislation can protect performing animals. It cannot. These convictions were obtained under extraordinary circumstances and with extraordinary evidence. ADI had collected in the region of 400 hours of videotape; this was used to secure the convictions. Under the normal circumstances of observation of a crime, reporting, evidence gathering, and prosecution, these crimes would not have come to light, let alone reach the courts. There has been surprise that the Cawleys were not charged with more offences. The Cawleys were seen on video thrashing camels, and even beating them about the face; Roger Cawley was seen beating an elephant, Flora, with an iron bar. These were not deemed offences because it is legal to use “necessary force” on performing animals. The Magistrate noted, “The camels were being trained in the ring. It’s not for us to judge if that’s right, it is legal."

Husbandry and accommodation
The 2002 survey confirmed that husbandry practices for animals in circuses have not changed since our last report. Some circuses erect exercise enclosures, and publicise this. However we found that there are rarely enough exercise enclosures of suitable size, for all the animals to enjoy them. Time in exercise enclosures is limited; taking turns with other animals; fitting exercise time in between shows and show preparation (animals are prepared for the ring some time before their performance, brushed, tackled up, on tethers, or caged and ready).

In general exercise enclosures remain small, and there has been little or no effort to enrich them.

For hoofed animals, a stall inside a tent remains the daily experience for most, if not all of the time; for bears and big cats the beastwagon, a cage on the back of a lorry, is home for most of the time, whether touring or in permanent (winter) quarters.

There is no realistic comparison to be made between the life of circus ponies and dogs and that of racehorses, gymkhana ponies, or show dogs. Racehorses, gymkhana ponies and similar animals do not spend almost their entire lives travelling on the back of a truck, or tied on a short rope facing a tent wall. Even when transport of animals may be a regular occurence, it is temporary. Whereas in travelling circuses animals spend the majority of the year in temporary accommodation/in transit. Veterinary treatment (even surgery) is carried out on the road.

We have previously drawn attention to the exemptions and derogation of animal transport regulations, which have allowed circuses to keep their animals in accommodation which is considered unacceptable for animals of the same species, being used in different industries (e.g. farming). Despite specific regulations on the transport of pregnant and sick animals, circus animals travel when pregnant, and give birth on tour. Animals in circuses continue to be dragged around the country, whatever their condition or state of health.

The use of animals in circuses is a special case, and can be outlawed. The circumstances are unique to the industry and there are no satisfactory and practical standards of accommodation, environmental enrichment, or welfare measures which could make animal use in travelling circuses acceptable.


Accomodation: Domestic Species
6 Palamino horses; 1 Shetland pony; 1 Falabella pony (Zippos Circus): During our observation the horses remained in their stalls (approx 2.5m x 2.5m) inside a stable tent. Zippos has previously been seen to use small paddocks, but they are not large enough, so most animals only get a short exercise period, and some do not get any time in the enclosure at all. During this period of observation, the enclosures were not used at all. 22 horses, 3 ponies (Spirit of the Horse): The horses were kept in stalls (approx 2.5x2.5m) inside a stable tent. An outdoor paddock (pictured above) was provided, but at Brighton the paddock was not used at all. At Windsor, just two horses used the paddock.

2 horses (Giffords Circus): Kept in 2m x 2m stalls inside a stable tent. During observation, these animals were tethered outside (by 4 metre ropes) for just 2.75 hours.

Shetland Ponies (Santus Circus): The ponies were kept in small stalls (approx 1.5x2m) which they did not leave during the period of observation. A donkey and pony spent the majority of their time outside, tethered by ropes approximately 4 metres long.

2 ponies and 1 Shetland pony (Circus Markus): Permanently boxed in stall 3x3m. The Shetland had a 10-minute break to appear in the show. The other ponies did not appear in the performance, so it was not clear whether these animals received any exercise at all.

Horse and Shetland pony (The Famous Robert Brothers Circus): Provided with stalls (approx. 2.5x2.5m). However, during observation the animals were kept throughout the day and night in a taped paddock (31x46.5m). Staff said this was done during milder weather. The horses were provided with rugs during colder spells.

Pony (Jay Miller’s): Kept inside a truck at night and tethered by approx. 3m rope during the day.

4 Ponies (Circus Ricardo): Majority of their time tethered in 2.5x2.5m stalls. Tethered outside for 5 hours each day.

Dogs (Jolly’s Circus): Caged in pen approx. 1.5x1.5m.

Ducks (Jolly’s): In a pen (1x1m) all of the time.

Accommodation: Exotic Species
Elephant (Bobby Roberts Super Circus): The Indian elephant was given an electric fenced enclosure for most of the working day. Although the best a circus elephant might get, this severely restricts an animal with such a large natural range, the enclosure lacks any enrichment such as bathing facilities, and this elephant is now isolated from her own species.

8 Tigers (Great British Circus): 4 tigers permanently restricted to the beastwagon; another 4 tigers had access to a small outdoor enclosure. However during observations all tigers remained inside the wagon.

Bear (Peter Jolly’s Circus): During our observations, this animal was kept permanently inside a beastwagon (a cage on the back of a flatbed lorry or truck).

3 Zebras (Great British Circus): In stalls (3m x 2m) in a stable tent for most of their time; also used a small paddock (approx. 46.5 metres by 31 metres).

Solitary Zebra (Jolly’s): Permanently tethered.

Python (Jolly’s): Kept in a 1.5m tank.

7 fantail doves (Circus Markus): Stored in two mesh-fronted boxes, approx. 0.75 x 1m, and 1m x 1m.

Journey times
No changes have been made by the circus industry to improve the situation for animals before, during, or after journeys, since our last study. Animals continue to endure extended periods shut in transporters when the circus moves from one location to another, regardless of the actual journey time. An elephant (which was in extremely poor health), and the horses with Bobby Roberts’ Super Circus remained in their transporters for 19 hours, for a three hour journey.

Zippos Circus: 11 mile journey (Chiswick to Kingsbury, in London) took 40 minutes. The animals remained on transporters for 2 hours 12 minutes. Great British Circus: For a 15 mile journey taking approximately 26 minutes, the camels spent at least 4 hours shut in their transporter. The tigers were shut in their transporter for the entire day before this move, thus spent at least 24 hours encased in their cage. It should be noted that the youngest tigers were kept permanently on the transporter; the 4 older animals were often kept inside the cage all day.

We cited similar occurrences in the last report, for example a bear spent 39 hours in its transporter, and a pony 23 hours, for journeys of just 5 hours. At a time when there has been so much concern about the welfare of livestock travelling across Europe, it is extraordinary that in the UK, elephants and horses undertaking relatively short journeys can be shut in their transporters for over 19 hours.

Time on the road
An examination of a random sample of the published schedules of eight UK animal circuses found their average stop was 8 days. As discussed above, animals are usually loaded onto transporters after the final show and may not be unloaded until the site is fully prepared at the next town. At worst, this can mean that for a whole day each week the animals are shut away in a wagon.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that circuses tour for most of the year. For example, the Great British Circus toured from February to November, and Bobby Roberts Super Circus from March to November. Thus, these animals are spending long periods on tour, in temporary accommodation, during the coldest, wettest months of the year.

No other animals endure this type of routine. This is the reason that we have concluded that, with the best will in the world, travelling circuses simply cannot provide their animals with adequate facilities for their health and welfare.

Psychological Effects
ADI research has found that severe confinement is not limited to any particular species: horses and ponies spent up to 96% of their day tied with short ropes limiting their movement, often facing a wall; tigers and lions spent 75-99% of their time in small cages, kept on the back of lorries/trucks; elephants spent 70-98% of their time chained to the ground by two legs.

It is not surprising that these animals go out of their minds. Many circus animals display abnormal, disturbed behaviours, which animal behaviourists call “stereotypic” behaviour; these repetitive, pointless movements indicate that the animal is suffering, and has been damaged by its deprived existence.

Our studies have shown that animals in circuses display these abnormal behaviours for much of their day various groups of elephants were found to spend 70-90% of their time performing these abnormal behaviours. Bears have been seen to perform prolonged or undirected pacing for 30% of the time. We observed examples of abnormal behaviour in all species, both domestic and exotic.

Winter Quarters
Our previous study revealed some of the worst abuse taking place at the circus permanent (or winter) quarters. Animals were found living in the same conditions as they endured on tour. Elephants were chained up in barns for most of the time; lions and tigers lived in the same beastwagons.

ADI has strongly recommended that permanent quarters for exotic/wild animals should be drawn under the Zoo Licensing Act, so that standards can be enforced. This action would also protect animals used in television and films. At present, performing animals have no legal protection with regard to their husbandry or travel.

Studies of animals in UK circuses
The findings released in ADI’s “Ugliest Show on Earth” report and video (1998) remain the definitive examination of the circus industry, revealing a picture of confinement, deprivation, and violence.

Between 1996 and 1998, Animal Defenders International (ADI) conducted a two-year study into the use of animals in circuses. We worked in 13 UK travelling circuses and winter quarters, and 5 foreign circuses which were presenting British animals. We recorded 7,200 hours of observations, and recorded 800 hours of videotape. We studied daily routines, animal health, accommodation, exercise, training, and the psychological and physical effects on the animals.

We concluded that life for circus animals is one of deprivation, restriction of movement, punctuated by physical abuse and beatings.

In our latest study, twelve animal circuses were observed during the UK summer season period from May through to October 2002. The number of days a circus was observed ranged between two to eighteen days, dependant upon earlier data.

This latest study has confirmed that despite a huge public backlash, day-to-day life for circus animals has changed little, with any purported improvements clearly revealed as cosmetic, once scrutinised more closely.

Voluntary Codes of Practice - Worthless
DEFRA (Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has recently circulated to all local authorities, a Code of Practice produced by the Association of Circus Proprietors (ACP). Although DEFRA has emphasised that the ACP Code of Practice is not a government document, this has caused confusion and some authorities are referring to this Code as “government guidelines".

The ACP is purely a circus industry body with no power to enforce a code, and the Code has no standing in law. The ACP Code is weak, some of the suggestions made are impractical, and Local Authorities should be aware that the Code provides them with no assurance about standards of animal welfare. The ACP code was prepared on behalf of the Association of Circus Proprietors (ACP) by David Hibling of Zippos Circus. Hibling appeared as a defence witness for the notorious Mary Chipperfield Cawley. The country was appalled by the scenes of Mary Cawley thrashing and kicking a baby chimpanzee, Trudy. Hibling was shown three videos of assaults on the chimp and asked, “See anything which would constitute cruelty?” Hibling replied unequivocally “No". Asked “Would you do what Mary Cawley did?” Hibling replied “Yes". Mary Cawley was convicted on twelve counts of cruelty. Hibling was also shown video of Roger Cawley whipping a sick elephant, Flora, making her run faster around the ring; again, Hibling saw nothing cruel. Cawley was convicted of cruelty to Flora. Hibling’s responses indicate the gulf between circus and public thinking on the treatment of animals.

Safety concerns are particularly acute with wild animals but are also relevant when other animals get loose. ADI has witnessed numerous animals escaping from enclosures or pens including sea lions, goats, a chimpanzee, an elephant, llama, a pig, camels, wallabies. Four lions escaped at once from Chipperfield Enterprises in 1993. In 1997 a male lion climbed through a hole in a ring cage and was only driven back by ADI Field Officers; in 1998 an employee’s arm was bitten off by a tiger. In 2000, a vet was shot and killed in Warsaw during attempts to recapture three escaped tigers. Six lions escaped from a circus in Brazil and were loose for 6 hours before being shot dead. In 2001 an elephant escaped unnoticed from a circus in Germany and a liger (tiger lion cross) broke through a cage tunnel and critically injured a five year old girl. In Peru an 11 year old girl was mauled by a lioness that escaped from a circus - the lioness was shot and killed during the attack. A crocodile jumped into the audience during a performance in Holland. Numerous circus animal handlers have been killed or maimed.

UK Local Authority Action
In the past few years an increasing number of local authorities have responded to strong public feeling on this issue, and refused to rent their land to animal circuses. The legal basis for these “bans” is usually opinion poll amongst residents, or risk of nuisance, noise, or traffic problems, or public safety.

In an ADI survey of 318 local authorities, of those that had considered the issue of animals in circuses on their land, the number with a ban (or partial ban) outnumbered those that allowed animal circuses by more than 2 to 1. 39% had banned all animal acts; 17% ban just wild animal acts; 21.5% said that they never received requests from circuses with animals; just 22.5% continue to allow all animal circuses.

Animal circuses have attempted to sidestep these local authority animal protection measures by renting land from private owners. In these cases, local authorities are urged to use public safety and environmental legislation to inspect all animal circuses appearing in their area. It is also vital that the government take action to close this loophole.

International moves against animal circuses
The UK is being left behind. The UK often prides itself for being at the forefront of animal protection measures, but on the issue of animal circuses we are being left behind. The ADI evidence has sent shock waves around the world, resulting in action on animal circuses. Even countries with larger animal circus industries than the UK have had the courage to act. Here are some international positions on animal circuses:

  • Austria: From 2005 wild animal circuses banned in 4 provinces, 5 others allow lions and tigers only.
  • Brazil: State of Rio de Janeiro ban on circus acts using animals (May 2002).
  • Chile: In 2003, ADI worked with government officials to seize a chimpanzee that had been with a circus for 20 years living in a crate. It should be noted that in the UK, this animal could not have been saved.
  • Columbia: Two major cities, including the capital Bogota, have banned the use of animals in circuses.
  • Costa Rica: National ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
  • France: The prefect of Nevers in central France recently banned animal acts. In November, a French court ordered that a circus hippo be confiscated from the circus where she had been cruelly treated and placed in the care of ADI.
  • Greece: Patras has banned animal circus acts.
  • India: Federal prohibition on the exhibition and training of five species of performing animals for entertainment: tigers, monkeys, bears, panthers and lions.
  • Israel: National ban on wild animals in circuses from 1995. In 2005, Tel Aviv banned all animal circus acts.
  • Singapore: National ban on wild animals in travelling circuses effective from January 2002.
  • Australia: Prohibitions in force against exotic animal acts in 14 municipal jurisdictions in Western Australia, in 1 in South Australia, 8 in New South Wales.
  • New Zealand: Regional and city councils with bans: Wellington, Nelson, Dunedin.

ADI Recommendations
Severe restrictions on movement of animals and their ability to perform their normal behavioural repertoire have been found in both travelling circuses and permanent quarters. Our conclusion is that given the circumstances, travelling circuses cannot provide adequate facilities for their animals. The problems of space, lack of skilled staff, and inability to invest the necessary finances to provide better facilities appear to be insurmountable for circus businesses.

ADI recommend the following for inclusion in the proposed Animal Welfare Bill:

That any new animal protection measures make it an offence to keep animals in temporary/travelling accommodation for anything other than strictly limited/licensed periods. That the use of animals in travelling menageries and shows be prohibited.

We recommended separate legislative changes to deal with permanent holding and training centres (winter quarters) - this would include animals used in displays at shopping centres, films, advertising etc. Such standards should not be lower than the zoo industry, and should be regularly reviewed to reflect new understanding of animals. We would like to see performing animal training centres licensed, inspected, and regulated under any new Animal Welfare Bill. We would recommend that an appropriate structure to utilise could be the arrangements made under the Zoo Licensing Act. Trainers to be licensed and qualified.

New codes of husbandry for domestic and wild animals must be legally enforceable. This should be further strengthened by including mental suffering and impact on natural behaviours as cruelty offences. The use of force for training and control for purposes of entertainment should be prohibited. This would not preclude the use of reasonable force in matters of safety or welfare.

Penalties for offences should reflect the profits that have been made from the commercial use of the animals involved.

Animal circuses: Evidence of suffering and abuse

Animal circuses: Opinions

Animal circuses: Circuses and the UK Animal Welfare Bill

Animal circus: Video evidence of violence towards animals

© Animal Defenders International 2019