Wild animals in circuses

Animals require natural conditions in order to thrive, and these conditions cannot be recreated artificially in circuses.

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. 

Dolphins need space in which to move and hunt, and the tanks in which they live are seriously inadequate. In 2019 in Italy, a court found a dolphinarium director and veterinarian guilty of animal abuse, the first court case of this kind won in Europe.

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

Audiences are also at risk of being infected by diseases or other ringside safety hazards. In 2017, Eurogroup for Animals published a report  revealing that 305 incidents involving 608 wild animals and circus audiences were recorded over 22 years, with 86 people injured and 11 killed

In traveling circuses, animals are transported over vast distances. Evidence collected in an Animal Defenders International report demonstrates that the well-documented problems suffered by transported farm animals – such as elevated levels of stress and the risk of falling ill – also apply to traveling 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. 

What does the public think?

The majority of Europeans (65%) surveyed in 2018 by our member organisation AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection stated a preference to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, with only 22% of respondents stating that there should be no such ban.

Policy - current state of play

While no European Union-wide ban on the use of animals is in place yet, public opinion is reflected in the fact that 18 Member States have already adopted a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. 24 of the 27 Member States restrict the use of animals in one form or another, either with an outright ban or with bans on certain species, such as those on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) list. 

While there are signs of progress in individual countries, the use of animals in circuses is not bound to one country, and circuses regularly move between Member States. Therefore collective action through EU-wide regulation is required to address the problem. 

Regarding dolphinaria, 14 EU countries keep cetaceans in captivity, meaning that 14 EU countries do not.  Of these, three European Union member states have banned dolphinaria outright: Croatia, Cyprus and Slovenia. 

Eurogroup for Animals

Eurogroup for Animals believes the European Commission should take the lead in banning the use of wild animals in circuses across the EU. We will work with MEPs to develop legislation to eliminate all use of wild animals for the entertainment of the public. 

In addition to our work at the European level, Eurogroup for Animals will support our members in promoting bans on dolphinaria and the use of wild animals in Member States where there is currently no ban.