There’s a romantic notion of circuses as being magical places for children, but the reality is quite different. Wild animals in circuses suffer physical and social deprivation and their training is particularly brutal.
The main welfare implications of a circus life for wild animals have been identified as limited availability of space, maternal separation, restricted social interactions, frequent traveling, and training and performance.
Our member organisation Animal Defenders International’s footage of circus animals showed abnormal behaviour, unsuitable cages and violence towards the animals. At Chipperfield’s circus in the UK, one of the oldest circuses, two lions and a tiger were found confined to cages on the back of a truck with restricted access to an exercise area.
Animals forced to live in unnatural conditions can react in ways which pose a risk to their tamers. In July 2019 a trainer in Italy was killed by tigers. Moreover, training animals to do tricks which are contrary to their natural behaviour, as well as forcing them to perform, undermines their wellbeing. In other cases, animals are cruelly disfigured, with one lion suffering the removal of his claws and teeth.
In traveling circuses, animals are transported over vast distances. Evidence collected in an Animal Defenders International report demonstrates that the problems suffered by transported farm animals, such as elevated levels of stress and the risk of falling ill, also apply to circuses.
Frequent travel also exposes animals and people to transport-related risks, such as the Gottani Circus crash in southeastern Spain where in April 2018 a circus truck carrying five elephants crashed, killing one and injuring two.
This makes it difficult to evaluate the exact source of all animals and thus the impact of their removal from the wild. The lack of proper regulations on the keeping and trade of exotic pets in many Member States, coupled with insufficient knowledge of some private keepers, undermines the welfare of the animals and pose a threat to human and animal health and biodiversity.