Wild Animals in Circuses (No.2) Bill

Written evidence submitted by Freedom for Animals (WAC20)

Freedom for Animals is a UK-based charity, working to end the exploitation of animals for entertainment. Established in 1957, FFA (previously the Captive Animals’ Protection Society) has been working to end the use of animals in circuses for 60 years, alongside other NGOs and concerned members of the public. We have carried out investigation work, research, public outreach and political lobbying on this issue. We are pleased to support any restriction on the use of animals in circuses and support this Bill.

As requested below we have outlined evidence or comments on the Draft Bill.


1. We support this Bill as we believe the use of wild animals in travelling circuses compromises animal welfare and is unethical. Public opinion strongly supports a ban also.

2. We believe there is a strong ethical basis for a ban but also on welfare grounds.  

3. Suggested amendments to the Bill:

a. Inclusion of domestic animals. We believe that there is much evidence to support a ban on the use of domestic animals in circuses when looking at the ethics of using animals as entertainment. There are also welfare implications of domestic animals spending a long time travelling.

b. Inclusion of static circuses. We believe that the same ethical concerns exist for animals used in static circus environments with regards their training and use for entertainment.

1. Why we support the Bill

1.1 All animals should be able to live their lives for their own purposes and have their needs met to the fullest extent possible. This is not possible in a circus environment. Animals used in travelling circuses inevitably live in temporary accommodation which is far removed from the environment which they have evolved to inhabit. Animals are transported on a regular basis in confined spaces for long periods. Animals are trained to perform stunts and tricks which serve no meaningful purpose to the animals themselves. Investigations into some UK circuses have demonstrated the mistreatment of animals, such as Anne the elephant in Bobby Roberts Circus.

1.2 There is a long history of research, consultation and public engagement with the issue of animals in circuses. A case for a ban is strong and many countries worldwide have already banned animal circuses. The Scottish Government and the Republic of Ireland have recently banned the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. Public opinion is supportive of abolishing wild animal circuses - 95% of respondents to a consultation in England supported a ban, as well as 98% of respondents to a consultation in Scotland and more recently, 97% of respondents to a consultation in Wales.

1.3 Simply licensing animal circuses allows circuses to continue to exploit animals and does little to address their welfare needs. It does nothing to address the ethical concerns of keeping and using animals in a travelling circus environment.

1.4 The use of wild animals in circuses both demonstrates and perpetuates a lack of respect for animals. We believe that banning the use of wild animals in circuses can only serve to have a positive impact on the attitudes of children and adults alike towards animals. Children who see animals in these situations learn how animals behave in these artificial environments, which does not reflect how they would behave naturally in the wild. This form of exploitation also teaches young people that using animals in this way is acceptable in society, a pastime which is largely opposed by the public.

1.5 The animal circus industry has a history of forceful control of animals and sometimes abuse which has been recorded on film on various occasions. For example the infamous case of Anne the elephant at Bobby Roberts circus. Occasionally such instances are witnessed in the circus ring such as training methods used to control the animals including the use of bullhooks or whips. We don't believe that viewing these practices would have a positive impact on young people's attitude towards animals or their well-being.

2. Ethical basis for the ban

2.1 As an animal protection organisation which has worked on the issue of animal circuses for 60 years, we have witnessed society’s opinion changing towards animals and the ways they are used in entertainment. Whilst we experience a range of reactions to our different campaigns, the use of animals in circuses is always met with solid objections, on welfare grounds and for strongly held ethical reasons.

2.2  The Government’s own public consultation has shown the public’s support of a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. In our experience when campaigning, many people are surprised to hear that any circuses exist in the UK which use animals, seeing it as outdated to use animals in such a way.

2.3 We therefore welcome a ban based on ethical grounds, however also believe there are serious reasons for a ban on welfare grounds and refer to the report published by the Welsh Government "The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses " . This extensive report concludes that the "evidence would support a ban.... on animal welfare grounds."

3. Suggested amendments to the Bill

3.a Inclusion of domestic animals

3.a.1 We believe that there is much evidence to support a ban on the use of domestic animals in circuses as they suffer many of the same issues that wild animals do, such as:

· They are still transported in and confined in restricted spaces for long periods of time on the backs of trailers and lorries.

· The loading and unloading of animals like horses, is known to be one of the biggest stressors of transportation - in a travelling circus animals undergo this regularly.

· They are housed in temporary accommodation which by its nature cannot provide the stability or standards which static accommodation can provide.

· Stereotypic behaviours normally recognised in wild animals are seen in domestic animals in circuses also, such as head weaving and bobbing.

· Watching animals performing circus tricks for entertainment teaches disrespect for animals, be they wild or domestic.

3.a.2 We understand that the Government consultation focused just on the use of wild animals but we believe there are strong grounds for domestic animals to be included in a ban. Whilst there may be some difference in public opinion between the use of wild and domestic animals in circuses, we find from our campaigning work that people do oppose the use of domestic animals in this way. Every year we support people who choose to campaign locally against the use of domestic animals in circuses including horses, cats, dogs and budgies. When speaking with the general public many of them state their opposition to all animals in circuses, not just wild. The ethical argument that making animals perform tricks is demeaning, the long hours on the road and the investigation work carried out by NGOs showing the housing of domestic animals in circuses, have led to these opinions. We urge the Government to take these opinions into account too.

3.b Inclusion of static circuses

3.b.1 This Bill only covers travelling circuses rather than static ones. It makes little sense to exclude them when the animals will suffer many of the same welfare issues. Many of the concerns outlined would apply to all circuses that use wild animals, whether travelling or not, such as the training methods and the suffering they endure by being forced to perform.

3.b.2 There have been static establishment which use wild animals classed as ‘circuses’, for example exhibiting sea lion shows as part of their businesses. There appears to be little ethical differentiation between using sea lions in static shows and using the same animals in travelling shows. Whilst there may be some arguments that better facilities can be provided for the animals at static premises, the same ethical arguments apply that making wild animals perform tricks teaches disrespect for animals and there is no arguable benefit.  

3.b.3 Therefore we feel it would be better to include those in the Bill to close any doors which may remain open to allow this kind of circus to exist in future.

3.b.4 If static circuses are to remain excluded from the Bill, we suggest that travelling circuses are defined by how many times they relocate in a specific time scale i.e static circuses must not move more than once every three years. This is to prevent a circus from moving between venues, albeit at a slower rate than at present, and effectively still ‘travelling’.

May 2019


Prepared 23rd May 2019