Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Stop Circus Suffering South America report

Posted: 26 March 2007. Updated: 16 May 2012


The use of animals in circuses in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Perϊ.

Stereotypic Behaviour

Living in such impoverished conditions, it is little wonder that many of these animals go out of their minds. Frustrated, repetitive, stereotypic behaviour takes over. These pointless movements, with the animal no longer aware of its surroundings are not witnessed in the wild, and are regarded by animal behaviourists as clear signs of distress. We call it circus madness.

During this study a large number of animals were seen exhibiting disturbed behaviour, including pacing up and down, weaving from side to side, head bobbing and running on the spot. Here are just a few examples which confirm the range of species affected:

All three bears with Circo Abudhadba displayed stereotypic behaviour in the form of pacing and weaving. The lions were recorded repeatedly pacing up and down in their beastwagon.

Most tigers paced in their beastwagons, for example those with Circus Africa de Fieras, Circus Hamanos Gasca, Circo Barney y sus Amigos. A horse at the same circus was also displaying disturbed, repetitive movements.

The elephants at Circus Mexico and Circus Hermanos Gasca all performed stereotypic behaviours.

A monkey displayed disturbed behaviour at Circus Hermanos Gasca


Public Safety

The temporary nature of travelling animal circuses and the close proximity of often dangerous animals to the public, means that these establishments can never be entirely safe. Around the world, circus workers and members of the public, including children, have been killed and maimed after attacks by circus animals. Lions, tigers and elephants have all escaped, and people have died as a result.

In addition to the risks to people and the animals themselves it should also be noted that these circuses were travelling through important areas of natural habitat for native South American wildlife. The travelling circuses contained animals, including primates, that could no doubt survive in this environment, indeed some animals had been snatched from the wild. Yet these animals were mixed with a range a of species from all over the globe and could be carriers of diseases that could be devastating to local wildlife.

The ADI Field Officers found a number of occasions where both people and animals were put at risk by the lack of proper containment for the animals, including:

Circo Barney y sus Amigos, Ecuador: Indiano, the old lion, was filmed being pulled from is very small cage and led on a chain as if he were a dog. ADI video shows that the workers can barely control the old but powerful animal when he simply moves to pull away from them. The lion has been led through densely populated areas to promote the show, and circus workers claimed to the ADI Field Officers that the lion had attacked people in the past.

Circo Barney y sus Amigos, Ecuador: An ostrich, a powerful and potentially dangerous animals (known to have killed lions with a kick) was kept tied with horses and ponies at the front of the circus or in a small 3metre by 3metre pen with goats and sheep.

Circo Abuhadba, Bolivia: There was no barrier between the audience and the three brown bears which were made to dance, play dead and ride a bicycle.

Circo Barney & Circo Barney y sus Amigos, Ecuador: Monkeys tormented by kids throwing stones at their cage. A Capuchin was hit by a woman, whilst children with her harassed the monkeys. The monkeys were reported by workers to have attacked people. At the same circus, children abused a sick sheep.

Circo Barney, Ecuador: The beastwagon for the lionesses is secured with string. There was no lock, and, as was common amongst the circuses observed, there was no secondary barrier to prevent members of the public getting close to the animals. Consequently at several circuses people were seen attempting to touch an poke animals such as lions and tigers.

Circo Royal Dumbar, Ecuador: Just weeks before the ADI Field Officer arrived at the circus, two lions had escaped and been killed in the street by police. As a result the two lion cubs at the circus were being raised without their parents.

Circo Royal Dumbar, Chile: A capuchin monkey, chained up and unable to avoid people’s attentions, was repeatedly poked with sticks by children visiting the circus.

Circo Barney, Ecuador: There were no toilets for visitors, there is a shed with no drainage system so any waste was going straight onto the street. Again, a lack of proper facilities like these is frequent problem with circuses around the world.

Examples of serious incidents involving circus animals
10/04/00 – A six year old boy was killed by five lions at Vostok Circus in the city of Recife in Brazil. The boy and his father were standing next to the cage when one of the lions pulled the child in.

16/12/00 – A 20 year old female circus artist was fatally injured when she was attacked by three tigers during an act which required nine tigers to jump over her. One cat initially attacked her but two of the others followed.

02/11/02 – A two year old girl died of a fractured skull after being attacked by a circus leopard who lunged at her through the bars of its cage. The leopard which had been with the King Gitano circus which was in Guatemala for 15 years was said to normally be docile by circus trainers.

03/10/04 – Roy Horn of the Siegfried and Roy magic act in Las Vegas, was mauled and critically injured by one of the famous white tigers in the show. He was walking the tiger on a leash when it bit his arm and neck and dragged him across the stage in front of 1,500 people in the audience. He suffered bite wounds and massive blood loss.

01/02/05 – Elephants with Tarzan Zerbini Circus, trampled their trainer to death while being loaded into a trailer in Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA. The man had fallen down inside the trailer when the elephants crushed him.

05/05/05- Keeper squashed by two elephants in Arnado Circus, touring Norway. He was seriously injured.

19/02/06 – A man was trampled by an elephant at Fossetts circus in Ireland. The man was looking at the elephants in their pen with his three year old granddaughter when the female elephant broke through the electric fence. The man said the psychological terror of the incident was worse than his physical injuries.

27/02/06 – A 16 year old student was attacked by a tiger when she had her photo taken on stage at a circus in China. The tiger broke her ankle and made a 5 inch wound up her leg so deep you could see the bone.

04/12/06 – A man had his left arm ripped off by a circus tiger in south-western Spain after he entered a prohibited area and tried to take a photo of the animal but got to close to the cage.

24/01/07 - An 18 ft python escaped from its enclosure in a travelling Russian Circus and fatally strangled a female circus employee.

Read our report in Spanish

  • Click here to read the report in Spanish
  • Click here for the PDF of the Spanish report

© Animal Defenders International 2020