Whilst wild animals are no longer permitted in circuses in Scotland, domestic animals can still be used. These animals are often subject to inappropriate housing and care, and forced to perform behaviours that are not natural to them.
What is the problem?
OneKind welcomed the introduction of the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill in May 2017, which became law in 2018 .This bans the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, which makes Scotland the first country within the UK to outlaw this practise. However, disappointingly, this ban will not prevent circuses from using domesticated animals in their performances. Furthermore, it leaves potential for circus owners to claim that their wild animals are domesticated because they are kept in captivity, leaving scope for animals such as zebras to be used in circuses.
Using any animal within a circus creates serious ethical issues. During the performances, animals are forced to perform under extreme conditions, with lots of noise from the crowd, but with no way of escaping. It also results in animals being trained to perform behaviours that are not natural and dangerous to them. For example, horses are often trained to stand on their hind legs and walk backwards, a practice that risks injury.
Even when not performing, domestic animals used in circuses do not have a good quality of life. They are often tied up or kept in small cages. For example, Animal Defenders International (ADI) investigated the accommodation of domestic animals within circuses . They found that animals were kept in cages that were too small for them, for example at Jolly’s circus, dogs were kept in pens that were approximately 1.5×1.5 metres in size. They also found that even when animals were allowed outside, they still had very little freedom. In Jay Miller’s Circus, a pony was tethered outside by approximately 3 metres of rope. This is not unusual, as it was found that horses and ponies can spend up to 96% of their day tied to short ropes. Keeping animals in such conditions creates stress, which can result in animals showing stereotypical behaviours such as head bobbing and pacing.
The same investigation found that domestic animals exhibited stereotyped behaviours in much the same way as their wild counterparts. An example of this is that Prezwalksi horses show wood-chewing, pawing, self-biting and head tossing when stabled or confined . Furthermore, the nature of a circus means that animals are transported around for much of the time, meaning that they are kept in small cages with no opportunity for exercise. An example of this is that Zippo’s circus spent 40 minutes travelling 11 miles, however the animals were kept in their transport cages for over 2 hours. Being transported for long periods of time has been shown to negatively impact horses, as in one study, immediately following transit for 24 hours, a group of horses experienced a 6% weight loss .
Finally, using animals in circuses perpetuates the belief that non-human animals exist for our entertainment. OneKind believes that this is not the case, and that animals are not here purely for our benefit.
OneKind would like to see the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill extended to ban the use of all animals in circuses, not just wild animals. In the meantime, a list of animals that can be allowed in circuses should be created. Whilst OneKind would like to stop the use of all animals in circuses, doing this would minimise the numbers used. It would also prevent species that are particularly vulnerable to the problems created by circuses from being used. OneKind also urges people to only visit circuses that have human-only performers, and to stay away from those that include animals.