Tamer and tiger in a circus

Suffering on tour: wild animals in Circuses

Animal abuse for entertainment is still happening throughout the world


Thousands of wild animals are still suffering in European circuses. Animals used in circuses and for performing live a very unnatural life that has no correlation to their natural ecology. A travelling circus cannot take the needs of the animals into consideration. The business constantly moves from location to location, cages have to be transported and therefore need to take up as little space as possible and be able to be assembled and disassembled as fast as possible. And so, the animals spend most of their time in transport wagons that are far too small. Their requirements with regard to climate, nutrition and need for physical movement cannot be fulfilled. There is no room for climbing, digging, running, bathing or swimming.

Furthermore, performance and circus animals often live in extremely confined spaces and usually in unnatural social structures or in solitary confinement. The training of wild animals often takes place in direct contact. Therefore, animals are routinely deprived of their natural social companions and even taken away from their mothers (social and maternal deprivation). This lack of social competence and the inability to satisfy basic social needs leads to both acute and chronic suffering. The training regimes can be rigorous and cruel, using punishment or negative reinforcement, such as withdrawal of food.

Species-adverse accommodation, constant changes of the location for the shows, uncontrolled breeding and trade with circus animals, animal training and questionable presentation in front of an audience are substantial components in the keeping of animals in the circus. Tigers, lions, elephants, bears, giraffes, even hippos and other wild animals are very sensitive species whose needs no circus can meet. Having never been domesticated, these species do not have similar traits as domesticated species, making them less suitable to live amongst and interact with people. Wild animals in circuses have been kept by humans for just a few generations and most circus elephants have even been taken from the wild.

From FOUR PAWS’ point of view, it is impossible to keep wild animals in circuses according to their welfare requirements in a way that is appropriate to the natural behaviour and ecology of the species.

Luckily more and more countries worldwide understand this and have restricted or banned the use of wild animals in circuses.

Who has banned the use of wild animals in circuses?

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FOUR PAWS demands:

  • A ban on wild animals in circuses.
  • A ban on the breeding and replacement of wild animals in the short term.
  • The confiscation and adequate re-housing of animals subjected to bad keeping conditions.
  • Domesticated animals should only be permitted in circuses if appropriate keeping conditions can be guaranteed. Only an approved positive list of specified animals should be allowed.

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