“I understand, there may be some circuses who do put the animals needs first; I’m not saying all circuses are cruel to their animals! But I still don’t think wild animals should be in cages, travelling from town to town; to perform unnatural tricks, to the paying public; no matter how well they are cared for. The circuses may very well maintain their animals are well fed & cared for, that’s all well & good. But no pitched circus can provide its animals with a likeness to the animals own living habitats. It would be impossible for circuses to provide lions or tigers with rocks, caves, trees, brush or access to a lake, for tigers & other animals that love the water. These are the basics, so the animals can exhibit their natural behaviour; especially when they are constantly on the move! The council floor space granted to the circuses probably just about holds all the wagons carrying the animals, along with all the trucks needed to erect the circus tents, caravans & other stalls etc. So there is little room for the animals between performances; to act in a natural way!
Horses & zebra love to run round etc. but In the News Link below, it says that ponies are tethered to the circus tents, camels are tethered in fields, with horses in temporary stables & makeshift paddocks; animals can not express their natural instincts when denied their normal living habitats! Where do the tigers or lions go when not performing; tigers love to swim! Or do they just stay in their beast wagons? I’ve seen enough evidence to convince me that circus animals are not happy animals! They are denied their basic instincts, they are not meant to perform or stay in holding cells in between shows. As such many animals exhibit repetitive stereotypical behaviour; due to their lifestyles, they would never do it in the wild! So I still say wild animals do not belong in any type of exhibit where they are forced to perform…it’s wrong & about time our Government got off their backsides & implemented a BAN like they promised! .”
Changing times: With a legal ban on the use of wild animal acts in UK circuses impending, Jonathan Brown goes behind the scenes at one of only two left in the UK to get to the heart of the debate.
Behind the big top at Circus Mondao – one of only two licensed animal circuses in the UK – zebras, camels and reindeer are roaming to the disgust of animal rights campaigners.
At its current resting place at Thorpe Lane, Tingley, there are Shetland ponies tethered to the circus tent, camels tethered in the fields, while its seven horses are split between airy temporary stables and makeshift paddocks to keep them separated from the freely wandering elderly zebra ‘Zebedee’.
By any means it’s a strange, if not slightly unnatural, sight to see at fields between Leeds and Wakefield nevertheless the animals seem contented and oblivious to the legal and moral storm that surrounds Circus Mondao’s very existence.
Next month draft legislation to enforce an outright ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, which could eventually come into force by December 2015, will have its crucial second reading amid increasing public protests.
Touring the circus on its eighth visit to rural Tingley in as many years, a vast convoy of 17 trucks, cars and caravans hauled around the country by a 30-strong workforce nine months of the year is gearing up for its next show.
We’re led around the site by veteran ringmistress Petra Jackson as Romanian gymnasts warm up in the big top and the animals are given time to relax outside. She is immediately on the defensive. “Have a look at where our animals live – you can’t believe everything you read on the internet,” she said. “It’s very hard to get our voice across. They are not kept in a shoebox under the bed, they’re grazing freely with fresh food and fresh water.”
It’s not surprising that she is on her guard. Life on the road with a modern day animal circus consists of a relentless stream of protests and media criticism outside of daily performances and weekly travel.
But having entered circus life aged 16 to train and care for dogs and ponies, Ms Jackson is used to the pressure. She has spent 22 years in the industry and joined Circus Mondao nine years ago.
Forthright in her view that all her animals live fulfilling lives, she is adamant that traditional circus is by no means the “Victorian relic” campaigners suggest.
“The people who come and see the show don’t say it’s outdated – it’s not what the general public are saying,” she said.
“The Great British public want to be able to make their own decision about what they want to see. If they didn’t want to see animals perform in the circus they wouldn’t come to see us and we would be out of business.” “The public did make their own decision about animals in circuses, according to a report by Born Free Foundation and RSPCA (2006). “See Link To PDF – Its time Parliament changed it’s act;Below”
98.9% of readers of the Sunday Mirror newspaper who expressed a view thought that the UK’s only remaining circus elephant (see section 6.1 – UK Circus elephant) should retire (2005).
The Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee The Environment,Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) is a cross-party committee appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure,administration,and policy of the Department for Environment,Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and its associated bodies. In its examination of the Animal Welfare Bill,the Committee has recommended that: In addition,to date (11/01/06),92 Members of Parliament have signed Early Day Motion No.468 recognising that the circus environment cannot provide for the needs of wild animals. The use of wild animals in circuses be prohibited The use of all other performing animals in circuses,television,theatre,films,advertising etc.be licensed “See Link To PDF – Its time Parliament changed it’s act;Below”
In spite of her defiance, the evidence suggests the days of UK animal circus acts are numbered – even aside from the looming change in the law.
From 1998/9 the number of circuses practicing with wild animals in the UK fell from 20 to four in just five years, with dwindling audiences and high-profile animal cruelty cases contributing to the fact that only two such circuses exist today.
Circus Mondao, with its collection of over 30 mainly grazing stock, and Peter Jolly’s Circus, which features five lions and tigers, have rarely been out of the headlines as a result.
And having worked with big cats herself, Ms Jackson is hardly damning of their use. “The natural environment out there isn’t what it used to be with deforestation and there is so much more poaching and hunting going on,” she said. “People don’t realise they (big cats) relax a lot in the daytime and what they do in the circus is no different to what they do in the wild – they jump and leap from one rock to another, it’s just a trained movement.”
She argues that most circus animals are “captive bred” and are used to a circus routine which causes them no harm, meaning animals such as Mondao’s zebra and one of its mules have easily outlasted their predicted life expectancies.
“The tide of opinion is against us. There’s no scientific evidence against us. We’ve been inspected by the Government, they have licensed us and all the inspections that have happened previously didn’t find anything wrong with the animals in the circus, it’s just that the animal rights people don’t think it’s right to have them in captivity.”
5.3 Abnormal behaviour
It is known that wild animals in captivity often display abnormal behaviour,with a particular problem being repetitive, seemingly functionless actions referred to as stereotypic behaviour. Stereotypic behaviour may be the result of frustrated needs,or be a coping mechanism developed in a current or previous inadequate or stressful environment,and the presence of stereotypic behaviour is generally acknowledged to be an indicator of current or previous poor welfare. Evidence exists for stereotypic behaviour being significant in circus animals (e.g.Friend & Parker 1999,Gruber 2000,Krawczel et al.2005, Schmid 1995),and this is supported by anecdotal evidence and video footage. Indeed,legislation in New Zealand attempts to tackle the problem,stating that animals displaying continuous signs of distress must not be held or used in circuses. Presence of stereotypic behaviour in some species may serve as partial evidence that circuses are unable to meet the needs of wild animals. “See Link To PDF – Its time Parliament changed it’s act;Below”
Nationwide around 200 local authorities, including Leeds City Council, have pre-empted a wider ban by refusing to warrant animal circuses using council-owned land.
The arrival of Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus in West Yorkshire last year attracted the attention of protestors in Otley and Queensbury, Bradford, last year, and Circus Mondao’s visits to Thornton, Calverley and Tingley so far have attracted similar responses from the likes of Leeds Animal Protection and Bradford and Calderdale Animal Friends.
Meanwhile Animal Defenders International has called on residents to avoid the circus as wild animal acts are an “outdated practice which is overwhelmingly opposed by the public”.
Jan Creamer, president of ADI, said: “Most people are now aware of the terrible suffering of wild animals in circuses and shun such acts. A national ban has been promised but, until it is brought in, these animals are forced to perform silly tricks and endure conditions which deny them their natural behaviours. We urge local people not to support circus suffering.”
Recent high profile cases of mistreatment have scarred the perception of animal circuses for many. Circus owner Bobby Roberts was given a three-year conditional discharge in 2012 for mistreating the UK’s last circus elephant. The conviction came after a groom was secretly filmed striking the 58-year-old elephant, called Anne, with a pitchfork in early 2011.
Nevertheless animal cruelty and circuses are not necessarily intertwined. Both remaining UK animal circuses are regularly vetted and have been licensed by DEFRA.
In fact after publishing the Wild Animals in Circuses Report which looks set to bring about the ban on wild animal acts, committee chair Anne McIntosh MP said “there is no overwhelming welfare case for a ban on wild animals in travelling circuses”, stating there are already laws in place to deal with welfare abuse.
But whether wild animal acts are at all necessary or viable remains debatable. Either way, the impending ban looks set to spell the end of a 150-year-old industry.
Ms Jackson added: “We don’t know what’s going to happen, that’s very true. We don’t think like to think about it.”
HISTORY OF ANIMAL CIRCUSES IS CHEQUERED
- The use of animals in the circus dates back around a century and a half.
- Prior to travelling circuses and the advent of public zoos, those wanting to lay their eyes on exotic wild animals would head to fairs.
- Before animals were exhibited, travelling shows were likely to be exhibiting people with physical abnormalities, regarded at the time as ‘freaks of nature’.
- From the 19th Century animals were taken on tour as displays of exotic creatures before they were combined with traditional circus shows – the first true animal acts involved horses.
- US circus performer Isaac Van Amburgh is recognised as the first wild animal trainer in circus history, having entered a cage with several big cats as early as 1833.
- Equestrian circus became a world phenomenon during the 1800s, with travelling circuses pitching up American-style big top tents from the mid 1830s.
- In Europe, the travelling circus and menagerie reached its peak between the two world wars.
- But while exotic animals once drew large crowds, the animal rights movements of the 1960s onwards pressured circuses to re-think their links with animals.
- Shows began to present circus in a more artistic light, while many circuses began to end or amend their association with animal acts.
- Although not a travelling circus, German-American duo Siegfried & Roy who performed with white lions and tigers in Las Vegas ended their 13-year stage careers after Roy was attacked and nearly killed by a seven-year-old male tiger named Montecore in 2003.
- Such high profile accidents were added to by cases of ill treatment among some of the more unscrupulous circuses and began to shape perceptions.
Recent decades have seen increasing public exposure to media such as television documentaries and to foreign travel, allowing people the opportunity to observe either directly or indirectly animals in the wild, their natural behaviour and habitats. In addition, examples of animal cruelty such as those uncovered during the investigation and successful prosecution of individuals from the Chipperfield family in 1997-1999 have aroused considerable public concern. It is of little surprise therefore that there has been a concurrent decline in the popularity of circuses featuring performing wild animals, which in turn may have led to circuses disposing of their wild animal acts. There have been several polls that serve to indicate this change in public opinion:“See Link To PDF – Its time Parliament changed it’s act;Below”
If your local authority has allowed animal circuses on council-owned land, you can write a letter expressing your concernto your local councillor.
 Harris S, Iossa G & Soulsbury CD (2006) A review of the welfare of wild animals in circuses (PDF 404KB). Report submitted to the Circus Working Group, 4 December.
Wild animals in captivity
In 2012, the Westminster Government announced it would finally grant wild animals in circuses their long overdue ban. Two and a half years later and it appears that the government has turned its back on wild animals in the circus.
Our last chance before the election lies with Jim Fitzpatrick MP who has tabled a banning bill to pick up where the government has left off. The banning bill will have it’ssecond reading on 17 October. This is a very important date as it could be our very last chance to see this much discussed ban become a reality.
Breeding animals for a few generations doesn’t wipe out thousands of years of evolution; essentially a tiger born in a circus has the same needs as a tiger born in the wild.
We’re not saying that the wild is an idyllic place free from problems – it’s not! But animals have evolved over thousands of years, adapting to live in certain types of natural environments.
Placing an animal in surroundings that are unsuitable for the species can cause stress and behavioural problems. Animals kept in an improper environment or fed the wrong diet can suffer, resulting in illness or death. In some environments, we believe it’s best not to keep certain wild animals at all, as their needs cannot be met – particularly if the animal is there for entertainment. Examples are;
- Primates as pets,
- Elephants in zoos (PDF 1158KB),
- Whales and dolphins in dolphinaria,
- Wild animals in circuses.
If you cannot meet the needs of an animal then you should not keep that animal.
Wild animals don’t belong in circuses…
We have no confidence in the licensing scheme introduced by the government as an interim measure while the ban was being passed. Put simply, it does virtually nothing to protect the welfare of wild animals in circuses.
So what are we waiting for? In March 2012 the Westminster Government announced it would ban wild animals in circuses and the Welsh Government later announced they were keen for Wales to be included in the legislation. However, the animals are still waiting.
Take action, email your MP now and urge them throw their support behind this ‘last chance’ bIll…
- Huge Victory! UK Ban on ALL Wild Animals in Circuses to Go into Effect in 2015 (onegreenplanet.org)
- Travelling circus under fire for use of wild animals after arriving in Wirral (liverpoolecho.co.uk)
- Campaign to ban wild circus animals wins huge public support (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Animal circus in Chepstow under attack (southwalesargus.co.uk)
- Circuses remove last of the big cats from UK’s big tops (guardian.co.uk)