The show can’t go on: the fight for an EU-wide ban on wild animals in circuses
Whip-wielding, top-hat wearing lion tamers may seem anachronistic, yet the exploitation of wild animals in circuses continues today. A French circus owner was recently attacked by one of his lions, prompting the surrender of four cats to the authorities. Angela, Bellone, Louga and Saïda will be re-housed at Born Free’s sanctuary at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa.
Dr Chris Draper, head of animal welfare and captivity at Born Free has seen the conditions of European circus’ first hand. ‘Conditions are woefully inadequate. Animals are made to perform once or twice a day. They’re living cheek by jowl, often with predator and prey side-by-side.’
hirty-one countries worldwide and 18 EU countries have banned the use of wild animals in circuses; 24 EU countries restrict the use of animals in one form or another. However, in the absence of EU-wide legislation, circuses have exploited regional and national differences in enforcement. Several EU countries have only restrictions on the use of wild animals in place, not bans. Some, including France, Germany, and Lithuania, are yet to adopt any restrictions. In Spain, murky legislative waters are enforced at the municipality or regional level – more Spanish municipalities are banning wild animals in circuses, but a nationwide ban is yet to come into effect.
As travelling performances, circuses can simply move to regions where wild animals are still permitted to perform. EU member states which have banned the use of wild animals are obliged to allow travelling circuses to move through their territory. Ilaria Di Silvestre, programme leader for wildlife at Eurogroup for Animals, thinks that the absence of an EU-wide ban exacerbates poor conditions: ‘They are spending even longer on the road, crossing Europe to reach areas where they’re still allowed to perform.’