A group of zebra stand under fluorescent lights in a circus

Circuses in the UK

Born Free has campaigned for decades for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses in the UK.

In the UK, animal welfare is a devolved issue. This means that laws relating to animal welfare are developed and made by the relevant national parliaments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, rather than across the entire UK.

This, in turn, means that legislation governing the use of wild animals in circuses has differed between UK member countries over the years.

Thankfully England, Scotland and Wales now have legislation banning the use of wild animals in travelling circus shows. Whilst Northern Ireland has no specific legislation banning wild animals in circuses, they currently have no circuses with wild animals.

While circuses are no longer allowed to use wild animals in their shows, they are still able to travel with and display wild animals providing they adhere to other captive animal legislation.

A camel in a circus with coloured lights behind it


In July 2019, the UK government passed a law banning the the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England. The ban came into force on 20th January 2020.

Virginia McKenna DBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder & Trustee said: “There can be few people who will not rejoice at the news that the government’s much-delayed decision to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses has received Royal Assent and passed into law. At Born Free, we have been consistently trying to achieve this for many years, since our participation in the Parliamentary Circus Working Group in the mid 1990s. In fact, my first letter to former Prime Minister David Cameron on the subject was written over 10 years ago. At last it has brought an end to the prospect of life in the circus being inflicted on captive wild animals in the name of entertainment. I hope this will be the first step towards the banning of all forms of animal exploitation for fun.”



On 15th July 2020 the Wild Animals and Circuses (Wales) Bill passed its final stage, with members of the Senedd voting unanimously to implement a ban, in no small part thanks to the more than 4,000 Born Free supporters who sent messages to the Welsh government calling for a ban. The ban came into force on 1st December 2020.



Wild animals in travelling circuses have been banned in Scotland since May 2018. Scotland was the first country in the UK to outlaw the practice.

The ban came into force on 28th May 2018, marking a successful end to a long campaign by Born Free and campaign partners including OneKind and Freedom for Animals.



Northern Ireland has not yet made any firm commitment on the use of wild animals in circuses, but has no resident circuses with wild animals.

As bans are in place in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales, the use of wild animals in the region appears unlikely.

Born Free continues to monitor this issue and will resume talks with relevant officials should the situation change.