The life of a circus animal is a sad one. It consists of performing unnatural behaviours for the entertainment of onlookers and living in unsuitable conditions. OneKind is calling for an end to the use of animals in circuses.
Wild animals are not suited to performing in circuses. During performances, animals are forced to perform unnatural acts under bright lights, and loud noises. For example, during a tour of Scotland, Anne, the elephant from Bobby Roberts’ Super Circus, picked up and ate candy floss. This is clearly not a natural behaviour for an elephant to perform!
Most of the life of a touring circus animal is not spent performing, indeed only 1-9% of their day is spent performing or training. The majority of their time is spent in cages or enclosures that are often too small for them. The transport lorries that animals are kept in, “beastwagons”, are on average 27% smaller than recommended for indoor enclosures. Social animals are often kept in isolation. Anne, the elephant from Bobby Roberts’ Super Circus, was kept by herself from 2002-2011, despite knowledge that elephants are highly social animals. Conversely, predator and prey animals are often kept in close proximity to one another, again causing a great deal of stress.
When out of their enclosures – which is not very often – the lives of circus animals are little better. The outside areas are often too small. Research has shown that the outdoor enclosures of circus animals are on average 27% smaller than the recommended size for animals in zoos. Not only are the enclosures too small, but they often do not have things to keep the animals entertained. For example, a hippo kept in Ireland was held in a pen without a scratching post or a wallow. Not having these would have been damaging for the physical and behavioural health of the hippo.
Clearly, wild animals are not suited to being circus performers. This is further highlighted by research by Bristol University, published in 2009, which concluded that:
- Non-domestic animals are stressed by human audiences.
- Circus animals spend a lot of their time performing stereotypies (repetitive behaviors) such as pacing, which are indicative of poor welfare.
- The continuous travelling that circus animals are subject to causes them stress.
- Species of wild animal that are most commonly kept (e.g. elephants, big cats and zebras) are the least suited to circus life.
Not only do circuses exploit animals, they also reinforce outdated believes about the treatment of animals. They suggest that animals exist for our entertainment, a view that OneKind completely opposes. Circuses do not create compassionate attitudes towards wild animals, and it is time for a ban of the use of wild animals in circuses!
What is the current law in Scotland?
At the moment, circuses are free to bring wild animals in Scotland. As recently as 2015, there were two circus lions and three tigers confined to cages on a farm near Fraserburgh where they had spent the winter. This Bill in the Scottish Parliament will stop any future circuses from bringing wild animals to Scotland.
There is overwhelming support to see this ban implemented. A Scottish Government consultation in 2014 showed the majority of the 2,034 people who responded were in favour of banning wild animals in circuses in Scotland. 98% thought the use of wild animals for performance in travelling circuses should be banned; and 96.4% thought the use of wild animals in exhibition (without performing) in travelling circuses should be banned.
What is OneKind doing?
The Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. On Thursday 5th October, MSPs unanimously approved the principles of the Bill which will see the use of wild animals in travelling circuses banned in Scotland. Read our response to the vote here.
The Bill will now move onto Stage 2 for detailed consideration and amendments in Committee, and then return to the full Parliament for final amendments and approval. We will continue to campaign for the strongest bill possible.