Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Out of control: New report shows animal circuses duped inspectors

Posted: 20 October 2011. Updated: 20 October 2011

Animal Defenders International (ADI) today released a new report showing how animal circuses have duped welfare inspectors from the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), from local authorities, and from the RSPCA.

ADI has submitted evidence to Defra that the Coalition Government’s proposals for a licensing system instead of a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses is expensive, unworkable and delusional.

In June, MPs voted overwhelmingly for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses as backbench MPs dismissed claims about legal obstacles. Yet, Defra’s response has been to reconsider regulating this repeatedly shamed industry.

Today’s report from ADI shows not only that a regulatory and inspection system is doomed to failure but also presents legal arguments showing that the Government is in a position to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses, whilst introducing a regulatory system for domesticated species.

The parliamentary briefing was presented to Defra at a meeting yesterday and will be circulated to all MPs todayJan Creamer, ADI’s Chief Executive said: “The fundamental problem is that a travelling circus cannot provide wild animals with the facilities they need. These animals live almost the entire year in temporary accommodation, in cages that must be small enough to be packed up each week and moved to a new site. They are handled and controlled in ways that no other captive wildlife is forced to endure and they spend excessive hours shut in their transporters. These are all welfare problems that are simply inherent to the industry so cannot be addressed by standards.

“Inspections are not going to catch the problems. Our video evidence shows circuses making a complete mockery of attempts at inspection by Defra, local authorities and the RSPCA.”

The report includes images of:

  • No chains in the elephant tent: RSPCA and other officials inspecting the elephant tent of the Great British Circus and finding no evidence of physical abuse, nor the elephants being chained. But the ADI video reveals the elephants were chained for up to 11 hours every day and were viciously abused. All evidence of the chains was removed from the tent during visiting hours each day, with the circus even claiming to MPs there are “no chains in our elephant tent”.
  • The disappearing lioness: A seriously injured lioness is concealed behind sacks of straw during an RSPCA inspection.
  • Anne’s makeover: Poor Anne the elephant was permanently chained through the winter and viciously abused, but with a high speed clean up was in a small paddock with bedding by the time the police, press, RSPCA and others saw her following an ADI exposé earlier this year.

And cross party MPs have pledged their support for the document and ADI’s campaign.

Fiona O’Donnell MP, the newly appointed Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries with wild animals in circuses as part of her brief said:

“The Government are out of touch with the public on the use of wild animals in circuses. This document clearly illustrates that with the best will in the world, licensing cannot work and the inspecting authorities can be misled. Defra need to satisfy the will of the House and now enact a ban before July 2012 to prevent this cruelty.”

Zac Goldsmith, Tory MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston said: “A motion calling for a ban passed unopposed through Parliament, and is backed by a big majority of people. I sincerely hope the Government will take steps now to implement that ban for the sake of the animals involved.”

Matthew Offord, Tory MP for Hendon said: “ADI’s briefing clearly shows the shortcomings of an inspection system. It is clear to me that the only way to effectively protect the welfare of these animals is to implement an outright ban.”

And Adrian Sanders, the Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay said: “The will of parliament as expressed on the 23 June 2011 is not being actioned by the Government through its proposed licensing system. It falls well short of the welfare standards parliament demanded.”

Jan continued: “No one doubts the concerns of authorities and the RSPCA in trying to protect animals, so when they are so easily duped, we must ask is there any inspection system that could protect these animals?”

ADI is responsible for the series of exposés in the UK and around the world over the past 15 years that have shown the public how circus animals are abused. ADI undercover investigations have revealed hundreds of instances of violence to animals in circuses. The organisation has reviewed the potential options for regulation, licensing and inspection and fails to see how any rules or inspections would have identified the examples seen in their undercover work.

Jan said: “Even at Mary Chipperfield Promotions where violence was endemic and we put before the court several hundred incidents securing three convictions, there is not an inspection system in the world that would have identified that abuse. Indeed one of those convicted was a government zoo inspector.”


Crucially, a regulatory system involving licensing and inspections is hugely expensive, according to Defra’s own Impact Assessment. The Government appears to hope that local authorities will bear some of the cost, but the local authorities association has already said that it is unwilling to do so.

There is no roadblock to a ban on wild animals in circuses

When the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was passed both the Commons and Lords were assured that it could be used to ban wild animals in circuses. The June debate in the Commons further found that perceived European objections were non-existent. ADI presented evidence to MPs from the European Commission showing that the UK could act unilaterally on this matter.

ADI asserts that the Government can regulate the use of animals in circuses by restricting licences for the use of domestic animals and withholding licences for the use of wild or exotic animals.

The new report cites a number of Government policy decisions based on public concerns that have previously led to bans, these include:

  • The UK ban on cosmetic testing on animals which preceded by several years the Europe wide ban
  • The ban on the use of great apes in experiments
  • Prohibition of tethering pigs
  • The Government earlier this year announced it would end the testing of household products on animals

Jan Creamer said: “Everyone knows that there are many things in life which we are not allowed to do and we don’t have a new act of parliament each time. The Government needs to get some perspective on this issue – the introduction of a policy to end the use of wild or exotic animals will end a huge amount of suffering. It will not even impact the majority of circuses since they do not have animals, nor will impact those with domestic species only.

“A ban on wild animals in circuses is a small proportionate reform that the public, MPs and animal protection groups have been promised repeatedly and have waited over a decade to see introduced.”

A copy of ADI’s Parliamentary briefing can be found here:


Media Contact:

Phil Buckley, Media Relations Director, Animal Defenders International,, 07716 018250, 020 7630 3344

Photographs and footage is available. Interview opportunities are available on request.


In 2009 the Local Authority Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) responded to Defra’s consultation expressing its reluctance to take part in enforcing a licensing system: “LACORS does not believe councils are best placed to deliver this regime, largely due to the travelling nature of these premises and reliance on veterinary expertise. Any potential licensing system for travelling circuses is not comparable to the current licensing system for, e.g zoos, as the lack of a fixed location would create complications when it came to issuing a licence and follow up the inspections. The council issuing the licence would rarely be the same as the council/s where the performances occur”.

The proposal to introduce a strict licensing regime will be extremely costly for taxpayers and for the circus industry. According to Defra’s own Impact Assessment the associated costs for the potential regulator are £7,680-£11,500 per year and for the circuses, £129,000-£190,000 one-off improvement costs (12). It is clear that the costs of regulation would not create an inspection system with even a remote chance of discovering the long periods of chaining or confinement, water and food deprivation or physical abuse that has been discovered during undercover investigations and remote monitoring. Although Defra has indicated that the system would be self-funded, it is evident that the UK taxpayers would still have to bear at least some of these costs. Furthermore, these costs are likely to rise as the number of circuses using wild animals in the UK increases as a result of the decision not to ban. If the Government opted for a ban, this would be the cheapest option.

Animal Defenders International (ADI)
With offices in London, Los Angeles, and Bogota Animal Defenders International (ADI) is a major international campaigning group, lobbying to protect animals on issues such as animals in entertainment and their use in experiments; worldwide traffic in endangered species; vegetarianism; factory farming; pollution and conservation. ADI involves itself in international animal rescues as well as educational work on animals, conservation and environment. Founded in 1990, ADI has become a major force for animal protection and has succeeded through its undercover investigations in securing legal protection for animals. ADI opposes violence or intimidation whether directed at humans or other animals.

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