Born Free is wholly opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses and considers the practice to be unethical. There is overwhelming evidence of compromised animal welfare in the circus environment. Our position is consistent with the increasing number of local and national jurisdictions that have banned the use of wild animals as a result of these concerns.
Despite difficulty in assessing living conditions, animal management practices and animal behaviour in circuses, it is evident the impact of life in circuses on animal welfare can be extremely serious.
By their very nature, travelling circuses operate in such a way as to facilitate ease of frequent transport. Animals are transported from location to location in cramped conditions, repeatedly loaded and unloaded.
They are often subjected to poor living conditions; confinement for long periods; lack of privacy; restricted movement (through chaining and tethering); extreme temperatures; unnatural close contact with people (trainers, performers, and public); high noise levels; and abusive training methods.
Animals used in circuses can experience both mental and physical suffering. Restrictive space and the boredom from a lack of environmental complexity can cause individual animals to develop unnatural and ‘stereotypic’ behaviours; contract disease from unhygienic conditions; and suffer for deficient diets.
Circus animals may face an uncertain future when they grow too old or can no longer physically perform in shows.
The way circus animals are trained cannot usually be easily observed. However, numerous undercover investigations and reports from ex-trainers have revealed evidence of mistreatment or abuse of animals. The training often relies heavily on physical domination and fear, in an attempt to ensure the constant attention and compliance of the animal in front of an audience.
Performance may be one of the most stressful aspects of a circus animal’s life. Animals are usually made to perform ‘tricks’ that have nothing to do with their natural behaviours. Some activities may lead to animals developing serious health problems. For example, joint problems might develop in elephants from unnatural weight-bearing tricks, such as standing on their heads or hind legs. Even when animals appear to be performing “natural behaviours” during a show (such as birds flying in displays), it is certainly not natural for animals to perform these behaviours on demand in front of loud audiences.
Wild animals can be naturally unpredictable and potentially very dangerous to humans. Some not only pose the threat of injury to people, but the significant potential for disease transmission between animals and people (zoonotic disease).
The transportation of wild animals from location to location, their temporary and often inadequate housing, the close proximity of animals to people during performances and the practice of ’parading’ animals such as elephants through towns are a serious risk for accident or escape.
Many circus trainers and employees, as well as members of the public, have been injured or killed by circus animals over the years.
Around the world, an increasing number of countries have implemented full or partial bans on the use of all or some types of animals in circuses.
Some countries have complete nationwide bans, whilst others may have regional bans in place. However, there are still many countries that have no legislation to prevent the use of wild animals in circuses.