Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

British circus ship their tigers off to Ireland ahead of promised ban

Posted: 4 February 2013. Updated: 21 June 2013

In a move which appears to signal the beginning of the end for the remaining wild animals in circuses in Britain, Animal Defenders International (ADI) can reveal that the owner of the Great British Circus, Martin Lacey, has shipped his tigers off to Ireland to perform with the Courtney Brothers Circus.

One of only three circuses still performing with wild animals in 2012, rumours were rife last summer that the circus was to go animal-free after Mr Lacey advertised for sale four Friesians, a zebra and two other horses in Horse and Hound, in which it was also stated that four other zebras and some camels had gone to a private collector.

The circus season in Britain will soon be underway, when it will be known whether any of the three circuses will continue to perform with wild animals. On the last working day before the government’s controversial licensing scheme of wild animals in circuses was introduced – which was vehemently opposed by ADI as well as politicians and other welfare groups – Defra advised that no licences had been issued. The regulations were introduced on 20 January.

ADI has revealed a history of violence and deception at the Great British Circus. In 2009, ADI secured video footage of the elephants touring with the circus being viciously abused by a worker and presenter. ADI also revealed how the circus had presented Parliament with claims that they did not chain their elephants, yet continuous video evidence showed them chained every day, for up to 11 hours.

The full extent of the elephants’ suffering was revealed following the release of inspection reports to ADI last year. One of the elephants was “chronically and obviously lame” and the inspector stated that she “should not be expected to do anything other than gentle daily exercise” until her condition was diagnosed. She also had a chronic abscess which “should be seen by a veterinary surgeon to reassess the condition as soon as possible”. Despite this the circus disregarded the advice and the elephant continued to perform, resulting in the inspector commenting that “we cannot rely on any verbal agreements in future. We may need to serve you with a notice to ensure that the welfare of this animal is protected”.

A previous investigation of the circus (then known as Circus Harlequin) filmed tigers being beaten and screamed at, a lioness being smashed in the mouth with a tent pole, and a seriously injured lioness being concealed during a welfare inspection.

Even the BBC Inside Out programme about ADI’s expose of the terrible mistreatment of Anne the elephant and the resulting trial of circus owners Bobby and Moira Roberts, which was aired soon after Mr Roberts’ conviction, featured Mr Lacey lashing out at his tigers.

The circus that the tigers have gone to are no less controversial - Courtney Brothers Circus made headlines across the world last year after one of its five elephants escaped in Cork, running through a public car park and onto a road risking public safety. Just two days later, a trainer was crushed and hospitalised while attempting to break up a fight between two elephants.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of Animal Defenders International said: “We would be very pleased to see the Great British Circus become a humans-only show, but we do not want to see their animals leaving our shores to continue a life of suffering in Ireland. The public now knows that these animals only perform when they are forced to do it, and that animals suffer severe confinement and abuse in the travelling circus. Both a UK and Ireland-wide ban must be secured to ensure the suffering ends for good, and does not just relocate.”


  • Watch the Great British Circus 2009 expose
  • Read inspection reports for the Great British Circus
  • Watch Ugliest Show on Earth expose - Great British Circus (formerly Circus Harlequin) staff can be seen hitting tigers at 06:49-07:18 and hiding a sick lion, Narla, during an inspection 08:05-09:33
  • Watch undercover footage of Martin and Natasha Lacey hitting tigers during trainer
  • BBC Inside Out East ‘The Last Circus Elephant’ was aired on Monday 26 November 2012.

All video footage © Animal Defenders International

Media contacts
Angie Greenaway, Animal Defenders International
Tel: 020 7630 3344 or 07785 552548

Animal Defenders International
With offices in London, Los Angeles, and Bogota, ADI campaigns across the globe on animals in entertainment, providing technical advice to governments, securing progressive animal protection legislation, drafting regulations and rescuing animals in distress. ADI has a worldwide reputation for providing video and photographic evidence exposing the behind-the-scenes suffering in industry and supporting this evidence with scientific research on captive wildlife and transport. ADI rescues animals all over the world, educates the public on animals and environmental issues.

National restrictions on performing animals in traveling circuses, either wild or all animals, have been enacted in 21 countries, including Austria, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Greece, Hungary, India, Israel, Poland, Portugal, Peru, Singapore, Sweden and Taiwan. Countries currently discussing restrictions include the UK, Brazil, the US and Germany. (As of June 20, 2013).

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