Elephants, lions, tigers, primates, bears, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, and even giraffe, are kept in circuses across the European Union. Unlike zoos, however, circuses with wild animals are not legally required to conserve biodiversity or educate the public. Instead circuses are usually seasonal, travelling establishments where animals are kept or presented, and are – or will be – used for the performance of tricks or manoeuvers.
In circuses, animals are transported from location to location, repeatedly loaded and unloaded, kept in small beast-wagons, chained within trucks or confined to barren enclosures. Usually required to perform unnatural behaviours, the training of the animals 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. Research has shown that spending many hours travelling or confined to a small and unnatural environment can cause heightened stress responses in an animal, resulting in serious negative welfare impacts. Training, boredom and the frustration in trying to cope with these inadequate conditions often result in an animal developing abnormal behaviours.
In recent years, the use of wild animals in circuses, and similar performances, has become the subject of much public and political debate. Once commonplace in Europe, citizens and national governments are increasingly rejecting the practice as understanding of the complex and diverse needs of the animals used in such shows evolves. Questions have also been raised about the ethical and moral implications of such practices and whether this type of animal use has a place in modern society. This consideration has led to a number of Member States (and non-EU countries) implementing bans or partial bans on the use of animals in circuses over the last decade.
ENDCAP challenges the belief, by some, that circuses with animals are part of European culture. The use of animals as objects of entertainment, their welfare often compromised by the experience, holds no educational value, and with so many endangered species kept by European circuses, their use in this way, undermines their obvious conservation value.
The regulation of circuses with animals in the EU
|Prohibition of the use of:|
|EU Member State||All animals||All / some (*) wild animals||All wild-caught animals||CITES species|
|Czech Republic iv||✔*|
|Other European countries|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||✔|
|Costa Rica xiv||✔|
References given in national regulations table above
- Federal Act on the Protection of Animals
- Royal Decree, 12 Sept 2005, pursuant to Article 6.2 of the law relating to animal welfare
- The Animal Protection Act
- Section 14a, Act No. 246/1992 Sb
- Act on the Protection of Animals. Order nr 1365 af 16th December 2009 – amended by order NO. 1494 10th.December 2015
- Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 2nd August 1996
- Decision 22/EEO/96 of the Ministry of Agriculture
- Law 4039/2012
- Governmental Decree 222/2007 (VIII.29) on the detailed rules of authorising the establishment and maintenance of a circus menagerie
- Animal Protection Law 1999 (amended 15th June 2017)
- Animal Welfare Act (amended 2014)
- Animal Protection Act 1997
- Portaria nº 1226/2009
- Animal Welfare Ordinance 1998:534
- Legislation on Animal Health 30580 by the Ministries of Environment and Energy, Agriculture and Livestock and the Ministry of Health.
- Prevention of Cruelty Act1960, by notification issued 14th Oct 1998 by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
- Nature and Parks Authority (2000) following 1994 Animal Welfare Law
- Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, 29 December 2002
- Norwegian animal welfare regulation for animals on display 2017
Circus: An establishment, whether travelling, seasonal or temporary, where wild or domestic animals are kept or introduced that are, or will be wholly or mainly used for the purposes of performing tricks or manoeuvres.
Animal: A multicellular organism of the Kingdom Animalia, including all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.
Wild Animal: An animal that is not normally or historically domesticated in the specific country.
Domesticated Animal: An animal of a species or breed that has been kept and selectively modified over a significant number of generations in captivity to enhance or eliminate genetic, morphological, physiological or behavioural characteristics, to the extent that such species or breed has become adapted to a life intimately associated with humans.
- EC Regulation which lays down animal health requirements for the movement of circus animals between Member States
- Directive 92/65/EEC which lays down animal health requirements governing trade in animals and their import into the Community
- Directive 91/496/EEC requires veterinary checks of animals entering the Community from third countries
- EU Wildlife Trade Legislation
- In Europe, there are thought to be over 1000 travelling circuses with wild animals
- 15 EU Member States have introduced restrictions on the use of animals in circuses
- Circuses keep many of the same species as zoos, yet are not necessarily required to meet the same standards
- There have been numerous incidences of animals escaping from their enclosures or during street parades, injuring or killing people and damaging property
- Records indicate that there are approximately 113 elephants in circuses, 20 of which are kept on their own
- England has committed to introducing a ban on wild animals in circuses to be implemented on 1st December 2015, whilst Scotland and Wales are currently considering options in this area
- A ban on wild animals in circuses in Austria was subject to legal challenge. The challenge failed and the ban remains in force
- In a poll of Members of the European Parliament (2013), undertaken by Parliament Magazine, MEPs were were broadly in favour of a ban to prevent wild animals performing in circuses (PM Polling 2013)
- Briefing document: Wild animals in EU circucses (2015) ENDCAP
- Are Wild Animals Suited to a Travelling Circus Life? (2009) G Iossa*, CD Soulsbury and S Harris, UFAW
- Circuses with Wild Animals in France (2008) Code Animal French version
- Elephants in Circuses – Analysis of Practice, Policy, and Future (2007) Animal and Society Institute
- Circuses with Wild Animals in the UK (2006) Born Free Foundation
- Keeping of Wild Animals in Circuses (1997) City of Vienna, Austria
- Circuses with Wild Animals in Spain InfoCircos
- Austrian Animal Protection Act, Section 2, Article 27
- Circuses with Wild animals in Latvia Latvia Society for the Protection of Animals