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Should Animal Circuses Be Banned? - Facts & Infographic

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Animals In Circuses

Circus - "An arena often covered by a tent and used for variety shows usually including feats of physical skill, wild animal acts, and performances by clowns" - Merriam Webster Dictionary


Animal Abuse Statistics

The earliest circuses originated in 14th century Rome but the modern circuses were introduced in the 18th century by Philip Astley in London. Astley's show featured clowns and jokers, acrobats, gymnasts, musicians and dancers. One of the acts featured a horse-riding act, but apart from that animals, both wild and domestic, were not part of these performances. It was in the 19th century that Australian circuses introduced animal shows. Through the 19th century, circuses showcased "freak shows" which featured giants, bearded ladies, dwarfs, aborigines, and conjoined twins. With changing moral and societal values these forms of entertainment were abhorred. Animals were introduced into circus shows and cruelty to circus animals have been reported from time to time in different parts of the world.

"Globally, thousands of wild animals are still forced to perform demeaning and unnatural tricks to entertain the public. They are exploited in traveling circuses, side-shows and within zoos, and used in advertising, film and television" - BornFree Foundation.


Circus Cruelty

"When children see animals in a circus, they learn that animals exist for our amusement. Quite apart from the cruelty involved in training and confining these animals, the whole idea that we should enjoy the humiliating spectacle of an elephant or lion made to perform circus tricks shows a lack of respect for the animals as individuals."— Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University

In the U.S., the minimal standards of animal care have been set by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Every major circus in the country, however, has been known to violate these standards. Animals in most circuses spend over 11 months each year traveling. They are chained and caged in cramped cells which are not cleaned. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) and Born Free USA, animals are trained to perform their acts under the threat of extreme physical torture, abuse, and pain. Circus animal trainers across the world routinely use bullhooks, electric prods and collars, whips, and clubs as standard training tools. Between 1994 and 2005, 31 elephants in American circuses have died premature deaths. Horses, lions, and bears are other circus animals that have died untimely deaths.

Before they enacted a ban on animal circuses, the government of Netherlands commissioned a study into the state of circus animals.

Animal Abuse Facts

  • 71% of the circus animals observed by the study suffered medical problems

  • 33% of wildcats and animals such as tigers and lions did not have access to an outdoor enclosure or to a natural habitat

  • 66% of the wild animals including tigers, lions and elephants were starved or malnourished

  • Lions spent 98% of their time indoors while elephants were chained for over 17 hours a day

Circuses claim that the wild animals in circuses are loved and well cared for. In 2009, the University of Bristol in the UK undertook a study 'Are wild animals suited to a traveling circus life?' and concluded that "the species of non-domesticated animals commonly kept in circuses appear the least suited to a circus life". Most circuses used exercise pens and wagons only about 26% and 27% respectively of the recommended sizes of outdoor and indoor enclosures. These extreme stress conditions lead to abnormal behavior in wild animals - pacing in tigers and head bobbing in elephants - or even violent outbreaks.


Animals and Entertainment

The use of animals in various popular entertainment centers and businesses has attracted criticism and strong reactions.

In 1990, Walt Disney World agreed to settle $95,000 for 16 animal cruelty charges against the company and five of its employees. Over $75,000 from this settlement was paid to the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission to fund television and radio public service announcements to educate the public about wildlife and environmental preservation.

In 1998, Britain's Spice Girls, US rock singer Chrissie Hynde and wildlife activists from all over took up the cause of 30 young elephants in South Africa which were allegedly starved and abused by their trainer. Animal entertainment and exhibitionism has been protested by many celebrities. Training greatly enhances the value of elephants in the entertainment industry. While a baby can be bought for about $2,000, after training each is likely to be sold for as much as $30,000.

Monkey dancing, snake charming, camel racing, elephant polo, and bull fighting remained very popular sports in India through the first decade of the 21st century despite their ban by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Following mass action by People for Animals (PFA) and such organizations, the numbers of madaris (monkey/bear trainers) and such trainers have reduced considerably.

In 2007, Amazon.com was accused by the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) for selling videos that showed illegal dog fights in a movie called Unleashed: the Realest Pitbull Action Caught on Tape, and Hood Fights Vol. 2, The Art of the Pit.

In 2012, Oscar-winning film The Life of Pi was mired in controversy when Animal Defenders International condemned the use of animals in the movie. Over 4 tigers were said to be used in the making. ADI President Jan Creamer said, “Wild animals that are trained to perform suffer physically and psychologically on a daily basis. In this day and age, it is simply unacceptable to use animals in this way and we urge production companies to have a ‘no wild animals’ policy. We also say to movie goers ‘if you care about animals, then don’t go to see films which use performing animals in their production.”

In 2012, over 56 jungle cats and a number of wild animals were set free by a man from Zanesville who had held them as pets. Ohio's regulations came under the scanner leading the state to legalize the ban on private ownership of big cats, alligators, and other wild creatures.

In 2013, PETA and Tori Spelling lead protests over Scott Disick's alligator hunting on Kourtney and Kim Take Miami. The episode's story involved hunting and skinning alligators and incensed many animal right activists.

China's zoos have been severely criticized for the animal abuse incidents frequently reported. In January 2013, a Shaoguan City zoo came into news because a 27-year-old man climbed into an ostrich enclosure and bit the bird to death.


Animal Cruelty Facts

Death at SeaWorld

In 2012, David Kirby published his controversial book, Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity.

The book claimed to expose the abuse and cruelty meted out to mammals such as killer whales at SeaWorld, America’s most beloved marine mammal park. The multimillion-dollar marine park industry was in the line of fire when in 2010, a killer whale named Tilikum brutally injured and killed its trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld, Orlando.

The book claims that the brutal treatment of these animals leads up to these inevitable consequences. Kirby claims that the mammals are allowed to gnash their teeth against iron grates and the remaining teeth are removed with drills. Young ones are separated from their mothers very early and left to mourn alone.

In his book, Kirby quotes marine mammal scientist Naomi Rose of the Humane Society, several former trainers and animal rights activists to substantiate his views. Killer whales kept in captivity recorded a mortality rate about two-and-a-half times higher than the killer whales living in the Pacific Northwest. Kirby also claims that the very industry was putting lives of trainers at stake and had very few safety and emergency procedures that would actually work.

PeTA's campaign against SeaWorld to stop breeding and buying animals for its parks in Florida, California, and Texas has been a long and vociferous one. From time to time, the animals rights group has demanded that SeaWorld release whales and dolphins into their natural habitat. In April 2013, PeTA purchased shares of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. allowing them to attend shareholder meetings and influence changes.


Circus Animal Abuse the Ringling Case

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, often referred to as the Greatest Show on Earth was established with the merger of Ringling Brothers Circus and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1919. Despite having had a long and well-known legacy of animal performances, the circus has been embroiled in various animal abuse incidents since the early 1990s.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) claim numerous instances of non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. According to a 2012 feature by PeTA, over 18 elephants are made to travel about 50 weeks by the circus each year. These animals travel 25,000 miles each year in extremely cramped conditions and are forced to perform under the threat of torture by whips, chains and bullhooks. Over 30 elephants in the care of the circus have died between 1993 and 2012.

In 2011, following a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) hearing, Feld Entertainment Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros, paid a $270,000 fine for violations of the Animal Welfare Act between June 2007 and August 2011. This was the highest fine levied on an animal exhibitor.

In 2012, Ringling Brothers circus claimed that American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), PeTA and other animal rights groups had bribed their employee $190,000 to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the circus. The circus sued these groups and the ASPCA paid the circus $9.2 million dollars to settle the lawsuit.


Organizations Against Animal Cruelty In Circuses

  • Animal Aid

  • Animals Australia

  • Animal Circuses

  • Animal Defenders International

  • Born Free USA

  • Captive Animal Protection Society

  • Friends of Captive Animals

  • In Defense of Animals

  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

  • Zoocheck


Banning Wild Animals From Circuses

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." – Mohandas Gandhi

In 2009, Bolivian President Evo Morales signed a bill to end the use of wild and domestic animals in traveling circuses into a law, making it the first country to ban them.

In 2011, China followed the precedent and banned the use of animals in circuses. The government also warned over 300 zoos strengthening animal abuse measures as well. Prior to the ban live animal shows and circuses had been very popular in China. Over about 150 million visitors a year visited live shows each year. Animals Asia, an animal rights group, highlighted the abuse of many animals in the country raising much awareness.

In 2011, Peru became the third country to ban wild animals in circuses. The law passed by President Alan Garcia, however, bans the use of only wild animals and not domestic animals.

In 2012, the Greek Government banned the use of all animals in circuses. The ban was a result of a campaign by Animal Defenders International (ADI) and the Greek Animal Welfare Fund (GAWF) along with a number of local animal protection groups.

In 2013, UK agreed to ban the use of all wild animals in circuses but declared that the ban would be enforced from 2015. ADI, The Independent, and other animal welfare groups garnered much public support for the cause.

As of March 2013, the following countries have some restrictions or bans on use of animals in circuses.


Circuses Without Animals

With newer instances of animal abuse by circus trainers, management, and animal owners coming to light, a number of circuses across the world have started to do away with animals. Acrobats, gymnasts, and other performers put up dazzling acts and retain the appeal of the circus. A number of circuses from across the world which have done away with animals include –

Animal-free Circuses



Bindlestiff Family Circus

New York

United States of America

Circus Chimera


United States of America

Circus Ethiopia



Circus Millennia


United States of America

Circus Oz



Circus Smirkus


United States of America

Cirque Dreams


United States of America

Cirque du Soleil



Cirque Éloize



Cirque Lili



Cirque Plume



Classique Productions


United States of America

Earth Circus


United States of America

Fern Street Circus


United States of America

Flying Fruit Fly Circus


United Kingdom

Gamma Phi Circus


United States of America

Gregangelo/Velocity Circus Troupe


United States of America

Hiccup Circus


United States of America

Little Russian Circus



Neil Goldberg’s Cirque


United States of America

New Shanghai Circus



The Flying High Circus


United States of America

The Great All American Youth Circus


United States of America

The Modern Gypsies


United States of America

The Moscow State Circus


United Kingdom

The New Pickle Circus


United States of America


Sources –


























Should Animal Circuses Be Banned.

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