safety welfare in circuses

 Discussion Document

Safety and Welfare in Circuses

August 2005

source:  One Voice and Jane Goodall France

Presented by

One Voice       Jane Goodall France
23, rue du Chanoine Pupard – BP 91923   1, rue du General Bertrand
44319 Nantes       7500 Paris
France        France

Tel: (0)2 51 83 18 14      Tel: (0)1 47 34 50 54



Introduction – the need for action         

Safety and Welfare in Circuses - Guidelines/Standards:

Public safety and circuses         

Animal handling and contact         

Principles of Animal Welfare        

General comments on animal welfare and safety in circuses    

Animals that should prohibited from use in circuses     

Training of animals          

Transport of circus animals        

Stop-over sites (Lots)         

“Winter quarters”, breeding stations, the static circus and circus act   

Captive breeding          




General comments on education and conservation in circuses   

Illness, aging and the retirement of animals      

Animal recruitment and disposal         

Inspection and licensing of circuses and animal acts     

Display of licences           

Implementation of the legislation        

Closure of circuses and circus acts       


Although we are fundamentally against the use of wild animals in circuses, we recognise that the Government is currently minded to allow this practice to continue. With respect for the Government’s views we wish to engage in a constructive dialogue in order that circuses may thrive within the law whilst operating in such a manner as to ensure public safety and prevent the worst abuses of animal welfare.

A proper review of the legislation on circuses will have a number of implications for animal welfare. To mitigate these we propose that from the date of ratification there will be no further recruitment of prohibited animals into circuses and/or circus acts in the Republic of France. Within six months each and every individual animal owned by circuses or animal acts in France will be uniquely identified with an ISO standard microchip and provided with a PETS Passport. Within two years all circus acts and circuses exhibiting wild animals in France will have been licensed, and circuses will be prohibited from employing unlicensed acts. Within five years of the ratification of the legislation all animals whose use is prohibited under the new law (but have been given temporary licenses for the transition period) will no longer be permitted in circuses in France; this will allow time for these animals to be re-homed and for new acts to be developed, hence minimising the effects of the changes on the circus community.

We are particularly concerned with the safety and welfare of the animals, the staff and the public. We believe this is a most important article of legislation and have approached it in a realistic and scientific manner. Our comments are largely based on the “Five Freedoms and Provisions” a well established and peer reviewed tenant of animal welfare. Whilst we have not proffered ‘minimum standards’ to be adopted for each species, it is imperative that the inspectors in the licensing of each act investigate its ability to provide for the “Five Freedoms and Provisions”, and that they also consider the other requirements set out below. Whilst recognising that the mobility of circuses often requires some compromises it is essential that a sufficient number of rest days are regularly provided so as to mitigate the deleterious consequences of a life on the move. We would be happy to contribute to a constructive dialogue with the Government in order to formulate guidelines for the maintenance of individual species in circuses.

Animal acts are frequently hired by circuses. Where ever appropriate it is imperative that this legislation is drafted so as to apply not only to the circuses but also to the individual acts themselves.

Many governments from around the world have already drafted legislation and standards for circuses, and it is now time to do so in France. In coming forward with these proposals we believe we are providing our Government with a well considered argument that will help create modern and model legislation compatible with the changing ethics and understanding of our culture. It will bring increasing respect and prosperity to circuses in the longer term, and will meet the immediate and urgent requirements for animal welfare in this industry.
Introduction – the need for action

Founded in 1998, One Voice is one of the most respected independent French organisations working with animal welfare. We have more than 20,000 members but no political or religious affiliations. Every quarter we publish a magazine, “Animaction”, and a large part of our campaigning goes toward providing information to the public and educating children. Though One Voice campaigns actively it always acts within the law and, whenever possible, alongside government agencies. For example, One Voice is working together with French Customs Officials on controlling the importation of wildlife. Our particular interest in circuses started six years ago with an audit of circuses operating in France. It was immediately apparent that there were serious problems to be addressed and since that time we have campaigned continuously for improvements in the husbandry and welfare of circus animals. In 2004 One Voice organised a petition of 100,000 signatures calling for a ban on animals in circuses.

Jane Goodall France is an affiliate of the Jane Goodhall Institute, an organisation that was founded by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall. It is a global non-profit making organisation that empowers people to make a difference for all living things. We are creating healthy ecosystems, promoting sustainable livelihoods and nurturing new generations of committed, active citizens around the world. Our work is founded on the principles of research, education and conservation. In the context of French circuses Jane Goodall France is chiefly interested in the wellbeing of primates and in particular the welfare of the great apes.

Our wish to engage with our Government in a constructive dialogue does not indicate our support for the keeping of wild animals in circuses; but rather a recognition that circuses exist and that the government is still prepared to let them use wild animal acts as part of their repertoire. Sadly we have witnessed many abuses of animals, and have had a large number of others brought to our attention by both members of the public and circus staff. One of the more prominent being the public beating of the elephant “Samba” in 2002.

We are not against circuses per se, but recognise that the requirements for the welfare of most wild animals cannot easily be met in circuses. We are concerned that well drafted and enforceable legislation is passed that will remove the worst of the abuses, and improve the lives of those animals that remain. Whilst the public is aware of the conditions of animals kept on public show many of the most awful conditions are out of sight in the ‘winter quarters‘ (areas, often farms or smallholdings) where circuses rest for periods in order to service vehicles; maintain facilities; train animals and rest staff. The general public are unaware of the conditions at these sites and there is therefore little incentive to do things correctly. It is most important that any legislation offer protection in all stages and aspects of life of a circus animal, and to this end it should include not only those animals out on the road, but also those in individual animal acts; static circuses; ‘winter quarters’ and those used in all other types of performance.

Animal cruelty, and the need to prevent it, has been recognised in European legislation since the mid-nineteenth century (i.e. ‘Loi Grammont’ 1850), and ever since our society’s concerns with this subject have grown. There are many reasons behind our increasing concern over the welfare of animals, including: the relentless movement of peoples from the countryside to the towns making them more remote from the food chain; higher standards of living and greater pet ownership; a much better level of education and a greater understanding of an animals needs. These changes are ongoing, and during the past twenty to thirty years this concern for animal welfare has developed almost exponentially; not only in France and Europe but globally. It is now accepted that all those who keep or work with animals have a duty to promote their welfare through good husbandry.

The European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes (agreed by the Council of Europe [1976] and supplemented by a protocol of agreement [1992]) sets out as the principles of animal welfare that the animals should be “housed and provided with food, water, care, freedom of movement and environmental conditions appropriate to their physiological and ethological needs in accordance with established practice and scientific knowledge”.  To this end the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) developed a statement outlining what that which should be expected in good welfare, it is known as the “Five Freedoms and Provisions” (FAWC: Report on the Priorities for Animal Welfare, Research and Development [1993]) (see below: Principles of Animal Welfare). These ‘Freedoms’ would “form a logical comprehensive framework for the analysis of welfare”. The ideals of the Council of Europe as expressed in the above Convention ought to be equally applicable to all sentient species kept in captivity. It should also be noted that this Convention emphasises accordance with scientific knowledge.

Over the past ten years there has been an enormous rise in the expression of concern for animal welfare together with a large increase in the number of publications on the subject and greatly increased media coverage. All this is supported by a burgeoning academic study of animal welfare and related subjects. Our knowledge of the requirements of individual species is continually evolving and it is imperative that new legislation is allowed to accommodate this, not only now but also in the future. A mechanism needs to be set in place that ensures the standards of animal welfare in circuses evolve with our understanding of the species.

The particular requirements of wild animals in captivity and a wish to support the zoo community has been recognised in the European Directive on Zoos (Council Directive 1999/22/EC), and subsequent legislation in member states.  Many countries have also seen the need for legislation of circuses. Some have already legislated, including: Australia, Austria, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, India, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland. It is high time that the Republic of France followed suit with meaningful legislation on the welfare of animals in circuses. If not, public sympathy and acceptance of circuses will not last long, and the future of circuses in France may be expected to decline as in other modern European States.


Safety and Welfare in Circuses

These guidelines should not be considered a justification for keeping wild animals in circuses, but rather a response to the political reality of the day. They are designed to remove the worst abuses and cruelty whilst at the same time offering some protection for the welfare of those that remain. As public opinion evolves along with its standard of education and expectation we are firmly of the view that it will not be long before wild animals are no longer tolerated in circuses. Importantly these guidelines will also go someway towards international opinion on animals in circuses and the health and safety expectation of a modern Europe.

Should circuses provide breeding and conservation programmes for animals listed in Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) appendix 1 and Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 (and Commission Regulation (EC) No 834/2004) annex A; these must be fully evaluated by zoologists. It is imperative that life in the circus compromises neither the welfare of the individual nor the group: and that it has no deleterious effect on its genetic potential. Each case should be considered on its individual merits and must incorporate conservation and educational elements as demanded in the European Zoos Directive. Detailed management guidelines will need to be developed for each species individually.

All requirements set out below should also be required of circus acts whenever they apply to animal welfare or to the safety of the public and staff.

Public safety and circuses

In addition to ordinary industrial and entertainment insurance policies, circuses should be required to insure against liability for injury and damage caused by their animals.  Circus operators must hold a current liability insurance policy which indemnifies them and every other person under a contract of service or acting on their behalf, against liability for any damage or injury which may be caused by any of the animals, whether inside or outside the circus and including their movement. A similar insurance policy should be held by the owners of each individual performing animal act. Any upper limit on the sum involved of such insurance should be set at an adequate and realistic level. Such policies should be a requirement of any legislation regulating circuses and performing animal acts.

Any escape or contact between the public and the animals can result in the death or injury of the animal and is therefore of concern for animal welfare. All cage and enclosure barriers must be designed, constructed and maintained in a manner that maintains their integrity and prevents escape or injury of the animals contained. These requirements should also apply all performances and to the circus ring itself. For animals able to climb jump or fly this may also require the roof of the cage to be appropriately netted. Cage furniture, vegetation, etc. must not be allowed to compromise the integrity of the barrier. Animal exits from the ring should be of appropriate size and design and must not be obstructed. Animal runs, gates and doors to all enclosures must be at least as effective at containing the animals as the rest of the barrier and permit the unobstructed passage of the animal. All of the cage or enclosure must be visible from the gates so as to reduce the risk of accidental entry by a keeper while an animal is still in the area. All doors and gates into enclosures containing dangerous animals must be securely locked and contact between the public and these animals prevented. Stand-off barriers, finger-proof mesh, transparent windows, etc. may all be used but they must all be strong enough to withstand attack from both the animals and the public. In addition a sufficient number of clearly visible safety signs, providing warning of the risks afforded by each animal by a combination of symbols and words, must be displayed at each enclosure.

Unauthorised and unsupervised access into animal areas by the public must be prevented at all times. A perimeter boundary should be constructed around the circus, and it should be designed, constructed and maintained to discourage unauthorised entry; it should also be reinforced by appropriate signage.  In public areas all pathways, barriers, structures, services, fixtures and fittings must be maintained in a safe condition. Hazards must be carefully contained/protected and appropriate warning signs posted. Steps should be furnished with handrails, and access for the disabled provided. Sufficient escape routes for all must be provided from the ‘Big Top’, and the remainder of the premises, in case of emergency. People must be able to open these emergency exits from the inside and they must be kept clear of obstructions. All exits must be clearly demarcated.

During the performances the public must be adequately protected from the animals. The “ring banks” (“ring curbs”) that surround the ring are generally insufficient to prevent a larger animal falling out, and should be supplemented by additional barriers to improve safety in case of unforeseen events. The surface of the ring must also be properly prepared before each performance: stones, wire, faeces and other detritus should be removed, dust settled, and the surface covered with wood shavings, ‘tanbark’ or rubber mats.  Exits for performers must be of adequate size, unobstructed and safe.

Emergency protocols should be written down with regular and adequate training given to all staff: this should all be logged, with records kept for inspection. These should include protocols for animal escape and illegal releases of animals, fire, bombs, structural collapse (“Blowdown”), etc. Every effort must be made to recover escaped hazardous animals (alive or dead) with the prime concern always for the safety of the public and staff. This will almost certainly necessitate the holding of appropriate firearms and capture equipment on-site; this must be securely stored and properly licensed and maintained, with expert staff available and trained in its use.

First aid should be available onsite for both staff and public, with adequate facilities, provisions and trained staff. If poisonous species are used in a circus appropriate protocols and antiserum (stored in an approved fashion) must be maintained and carried by the circus.

Animal handling and contact

Signs warning of the risk of animal bites and other dangers must be prominently displayed.

Contact with, and handling of, the animals by the public should be kept under constant review, and should not be permitted if it is deemed to put the animal or public at any risk or distress. The public must not be allowed contact with the animals until a full inspection and risk assessment of the site has taken place. It must be noted that animals taken away from their normal surroundings and social grouping may behave differently and that interactions with children pose a special risk. There must be supervision in all contact areas and this must be commensurate with the type of animal and level of risk.

It is most important that the animals are regularly screened for zoonotic diseases, There have been many instances of children (and adults) in similar situations (i.e. open farms and petting zoos) contracting serious infectious disease from animals. The circus must have adequate hand-washing and sanitising facilities, close to the contact point and obviously signposted. Following contact with animals the supervisors present must ensure that children wash their hands. The consumption of food should be prohibited in animal-contact areas. 

Principles of Animal Welfare

The aim of good husbandry is not to eliminate stress, but to prevent suffering. Suffering occurs when animals experience difficulty coping with stress. In order to allow a proper discussion of animal welfare in circuses a basis for an objective analysis needs to be established.

Mcfarland’s Conceptual Model of Motivational Priorities and Suffering (Problems of Animal Behaviour   McFarland [Longman 1989]) looks at and explains a wide range of welfare parameters that need to be considered for the avoidance of both suffering and limbo (i.e. too much of a bad thing causes suffering whereas too much of a good thing may provide a lack of motivation [limbo]). Good husbandry practice aims to provide for a level of comfort that prevents both extremes and encourages normal behaviour.

Possible sources of suffering to sentient animals include:
• hunger and thirst
• heat and cold
• pain and exhaustion
• disease and depression
• fear and anxiety
• boredom and frustration
• loss and loneliness
The opposite extremes of the above may contribute to a state of limbo which is also a cause of concern.

Mcfarland’s model however is insufficient on its own and more recently his findings have been used together with a concept known as the ‘Five Freedoms and Provisions’. It was first drawn up by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council (1993) and is expressed in (Animal Welfare   limping towards Eden - Webster [Blackwell Science 2005]). Though this concept originally evolved for farm animals it was rapidly adopted for use with other species and has been a great leap forward in our understanding of animal welfare and has been used as the background understanding behind animal welfare legislation. Both these concepts are internationally accepted and have been subjected to proper peer review and scrutiny. 

1. Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition   by ready access to fresh water and a diet adequate to maintain full health and vigour
2. Freedom from discomfort   by providing a suitable environment including shelter, and a comfortable resting area
3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease   by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
4. Freedom from fear and distress   by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering
5. Freedom to express normal behaviour   by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and the company of the animal’s own kind.

The concept of the ‘Five Freedoms and Provisions’ should be interpreted as a “practical, comprehensive check-list of paradigms by which to assess the strengths and weaknesses of any husbandry system. [Webster 2005]”.

We would ask that these ideas and principles are incorporated into your review of legislation of circuses as they have been used so successfully elsewhere. We would be happy to expand on these ideas for you and give more explanation if asked.

General comments on animal welfare and safety in circuses

Set out below are general standards that relate to all animals kept in captivity, both domestic and wild. For order and ease of understanding they have been set out against each of the ‘Five Freedoms and Provisions’, and we have only presented examples of the requirements as they relate to the welfare of circus animals. A modern regulation for circuses needs to incorporate all these ideas. Each species kept will need to be considered separately when producing requirements for their care.

It is important to recognise that our knowledge and understanding of the requirements of animals in captivity is constantly evolving; it is therefore important that the required standards of care are regularly updated. Revisions to these ‘Standards’ should be made every 5-7 years, and a mechanism to ensure this is done should be build into the legislation. In some countries this has been successfully achieved by having basic primary legislation that underpins ‘Standards’ which form part of secondary legislation. The secondary ‘Standards’ do not then need to go back to a full Parliament for approval.

Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition   by ready access to fresh water and a diet adequate to maintain full health and vigour through every phase of life.
     (This is a basic need; the method of presentation of food, the frequency of feeds and its nutritional balance must all be considered. Animals may have differing nutritional requirements depending on age, season, reproductive status and health. The feeding of life food should be prohibited except in exceptional circumstances. Food and water receptacles must be sufficient in number and placement so that they are available to all animals in the group. All food whether perishable, liquids, concentrate or supplements must be stored and handled appropriately {away from vermin, damp and at the correct temperature so as to maintain freshness and freedom from pathogens}. To this end food and drink receptacles need to be carefully positioned to reduce contamination and must be regularly cleaned. Uneaten food must be disposed of hygienically and at least once daily. The unsupervised public feeding of animals should be prohibited).

Freedom from discomfort   by providing a suitable environment including shelter, and a comfortable resting (and nesting) area.
    (Consideration would include: temperature, ventilation, noise and lighting (levels and spectral distribution. Protection from wind / draughts and rain; shade from excessive sunlight, direct or reflected (especially with pinnipeds) is required. Cooled or heated areas may be needed depending on animal’s requirements. Aquatic species must be provided with adequately aerated and filtered water of the right salinity and pH (this must be frequently monitored and recorded). Whenever environmental quality or safety is dependent on electric systems adequate backup facilities must be available in case of power failure. All electrical and mechanical equipment must be kept out of reach of the animals. Species that dig and root must be provided with suitable substrates. Particular¬ consideration to be given to the special needs of pregnant and newly-born animals and newly-arrived animals should be carefully acclimatised. Generally a compromise between hygiene and the species’ behavioural and biological requirements has to be made.
    Animals exercised or kept in outdoor enclosures must be provided with sufficient shelter for their comfort and well-being. The public should not be able to approach the enclosures on more than two sides, and the animals should be able to escape the permanent gaze of the public. All barriers to enclosures must be maintained in a condition which presents no likelihood of injuring the animals, and any vegetation capable of harming animals must be trimmed back, or kept out of reach.
    There must be adequate drainage of all enclosures. All waste and rubbish should be removed from enclosures as soon as possible and before it presents a physical or disease hazard to the animals. Veterinary approved cleaning agents and disinfectants must be used, and approved protocols followed)

Freedom from pain, injury and disease   by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
    (It is assumed that all sentient animals feel pain.
    The cage and enclosure design should minimise the risk of injury, ensure that animals can get away from each other and that one species cannot injure another. It should also protect the animals from potential danger from vectors of disease and both predators and the public. The space maintained between animals and visitors must be sufficient to minimise transmission of disease or potential pathogens. Trees within or near the enclosures must be regularly inspected and lopped or felled as appropriate to avoid animals being harmed by falling branches etc.
    Consideration needs to be given to the size and composition of each group held so as to minimise stress.
    The condition, health and behaviour of all animals in the circus should be checked at least twice daily by the person or persons in charge of their care for that particular day. Any animals which are noted to be having problems must be thoroughly assessed as to whether they are unduly distressed, sick or injured. They must receive immediate attention and, where necessary, treatment.
    There should be a singe nominated veterinarian with circus or zoo animal experience to oversee and collate the veterinary care of animals at the circus, this person must be available for consultation 24 hours per day 366 days per year. This is necessary for the proper veterinary care of the animals; they might be seeing a large number of inexperienced veterinarians as they move from one town to another and is also necessary for public health reasons. Protocols for preventive veterinary medicine should be in place and operational and appropriate veterinary care must be provided whenever there is a need. Sick or injured animals must not be used during performances and unduly distressed, sick or injured animals must be provided with isolation facilities. Special facilities for hand-rearing and nursing animals may also be required. Newly-arrived animals to be kept isolated as long as is necessary to ensure proper examination and acclimatisation before introduction to other animals in the collection. Particular attention must also be paid to minimising the spread of disease when transporting animals.
    The de-fanging of poisonous snakes and other animals such as bears, lions and primates, the de-clawing of carnivores or any other procedure to enhance an animal’s looks or to make it easier to handle should be banned: no animal so treated should be permitted in the circus ring. However, standard procedures for neutering animals and necessary veterinary procedures would be acceptable.)

Freedom from fear and distress   by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering.
    (Fight and flight distances must be accommodated and the animal should feel able to hide when appropriate. Though short, finite periods of stress may be allowable, prolonged pain or distress must not be tolerated. Particular attention must be given to: the numbers of animals in the group; age and sex ratio; available space and environmental enrichment in cages and outdoor enclosures. Circus animals are often confined for long periods in cages and the group composition should reflect this. Enclosure design should be sufficient to allow normal behaviour as well as escape from other animals and the public. Animals should not be kept in close proximity to others if this is likely to result in the unnecessary stress of either of them. Mothers and young will often need to be separated from other in the group.
    Circuses must pay particular attention to this ‘Freedom’ as training is an important aspect of animal performance. Training has historically been associated with animal abuse. Cruelty is however not a necessary part of training, and if an individual is unable to train his animals without it they should be banned from working with animals. Animals should be only handled by, or under the supervision of, suitably qualified and licensed staff, and must be done in such a way that the animals avoid unnecessary stress, discomfort or pain.
    The transportation of animals can also lead to abuse as can the requirements for public and staff safety. Transportation should only be undertaken by suitably trained and qualified staff, and carried out in such a way as to avoid unnecessary stress, discomfort or pain. All potentially dangerous animals must be properly secured and controlled at all times. Regular stops must be made for supplying the animals with food and water, and on longer journeys the animals must be given regular exercise breaks. See also - Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005
    Public handling of, or close approach to, the animals must be controlled in a manner that is consistent with the animals welfare, and will usually also involve limitations on time.
    Animals must not be unnecessarily provoked for the benefit of the public. )

Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities as well as the company of the animal’s own kind.
    (The ability of animals to exhibit a range of behaviours is an essential requirement, it is an important mechanism for dealing with stress. To this end all animals must be provided with sufficient space and appropriate substrates, furniture and environmental enrichment. The cages and enclosures must take into account the physical growth of animals and must also provide for their needs at all stages of growth and development. Climbing and flying species must be provided with suitable 3-D environments.
    Particular attention needs be given to nesting requirements, especially in those circuses where breeding is permitted. The needs of the exploration and learning phases of a young animal's development should also be met.
    Animals of social species should normally be maintained in compatible social groupings. They should only be kept as isolated specimens if this is of benefit to the group or necessary on medical grounds and is not to the detriment of the individual specimen.
    When considering the housing and maintenance requirements of an individual its traits and many different facets of its ethology must be taken into account, including the following behaviours:
• Activation and sleep (locomotion, resting, investigative, migratory, play, comfort)
• Maintenance (ingestive, eliminative, predatory, antipredatory, grooming)
• Reproductive (sexual, mating, maternal, offspring)
• Social (organisational, range/territoriality, dominance, agonistic, defensive)
• Communication (visual, olfactory, tactile, vocal)
• Learning )

Animals that should prohibited from use in circuses

There are at least three groups of animals that should be banned from circuses and are as follows:
1. Animals listed in Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) appendix 1, Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 (and Commission Regulation (EC) No 834/2004) annex A. These lists are independently researched and prepared following considerable international debate and peer review. They set the ‘gold standard’ of what species should be considered unacceptable in circuses. These species are threatened with extinction and these regulations generally prohibit international trade in specimens of these species, especially for commercial use. Species entered into these lists should only be kept in institutions that are actively contributing to their conservation, and have well established education and research roles. Circuses both commercially exploit the animals in their care and generally do not contribute substantially to the conservation of species. The use of these species should be considered totally unacceptable in circuses.

In addition the following groups must be legislated for:
2. Animals for which the requirements of the “Five Freedoms and Provisions” cannot be met. Such species would include: giraffe; hippopotami; rhinoceri; baboons and the larger primates, leopards; bears; sea lions and dolphins, all of which cannot be adequately catered for in mobile circuses. It would also include the transportation of animals whilst in the last stages of pregnancy or as neonates
3. Animals (species or individuals) that cannot be trained without the excessive use of force or other cruel practice.

Training of animals

All wild animals, however well trained, are unpredictable when compared to domesticated species. Domestication is a prolonged process, taking place over very many generations, in which the animal’s behaviour, and to a large extent its appearance, are markedly changed: the animal becoming more tractable and predictable. Classic examples are the domestic pig and wild boar, and the dog and the wolf. The behaviour of wild animals is affected by a wide range of factors many of which may be beyond the sensory repertoire of mankind, they include: scent (including pheromones); sound; visual clues and stimuli, etc. These sensitivities, and the responses to them, may be enhanced if the animal is in season, rutt or with young. These responses are particularly important during training and performances as well as whenever there is contact between the animals and the public. When making a risk assessment prior to allowing an act to take place consideration must also be given to the risk of escape, together with the possibility of injury or the transmittion of zoonotic disease to either animal or man.

It is easy for a trainer/presenter in their desire to dominate the animal to use excessive force and other cruel techniques, particularly if the animal is large. The use of inappropriate goads must be banned and would include such tools as sharpened spikes, electric probes and irritant applications and sprays. Proper training should however be aimed at the development of mutual respect between the handler and animal, and on the basis of positive reward. Whenever this is not possible the animal should be considered unsuitable for training and not be held in a circus.

Most importantly no aspect of training or performance may be allowed to compromise the welfare of an animal through any period of its life. Examples of training that has caused serious problems include: training an animal to perform beyond its natural ability which may exacerbate skeletal disease and increase the risk of injury; and taking another away from its natal group before it can fully learn its social and reproductive behaviours so compromising its ability to integrate and breed at a later date. Such training must be prohibited.

Furthermore, circuses should be required to have a role in education and to promote a positive impression of the wild animals in their care. They should also be required to promote and actively support conservation. Animal performances in circuses should not be seen as belittling the animals or to be taking them for granted. All acts should impart positive messages. Animal performances can amaze and entertain whilst having educational merit. Though not strictly a welfare issue, this is part of a modern society’s responsibility.

Transport of circus animals

Many of the welfare problems in circuses and circus acts are a direct consequence of the need to travel: small and cramped cages; no ‘home’ range/territory; prolonged noise; disturbance; lack of exercise and interference with normal behaviour. It is therefore important to minimise the adverse effects of transportation. We would ask that journey times (the time between loading the first animal to the unloading of the last animal) are always limited to less than eight hours, before and after which the animals must have a 24 hour rest. This limitation is necessary because of the variety of animals found in circuses and the frequency of travel. It is consistent with Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 which will apply to all circuses in the EU. Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 also prohibits the transport of neonates and animals in the latter stages of pregnancy. The development rate of young animals varies considerably with species and those who are not yet strong enough to travel must also be banned.

Because travel is a regular occurrence and disruption for animals, circuses and circus acts should be prohibited from moving them on more than two days in any seven day period. This will allow the keepers time to erect exercise enclosures and to spend more time looking after their animals’ welfare. This will require some circuses, especially the smaller ones to carefully consider their routings and stopover points. However, we believe that this will substantially enhance the animal welfare in circuses and is not be beyond their ability.

The condition of vehicles, qualification of drivers, reports, inspections and the use of staging posts are all dealt with in Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005.

All wagons/carriages must be maintained in good working order, they must be weatherproof and well insulated on all sides, including roof and floor. They must be provided with adequate lighting to allow for their natural behaviours and photoperiod. Good ventilation, without draughts, is essential. Non-slip flooring is required and the lighting must be sufficient to provide good visual acuity so as to allow a safe working environment. All caging crates and carriages used for the transporting of animals must be designed and built for the safe handling and housing of the animals, and regularly checked and maintained. All species will require bedding materials and many will additionally require heating. Secure watering and feeding facilities must be provided. The special requirements of all species must be adequately provided for including pools, perches, etc. as appropriate.

Should railway trains be used the speed should be limited to 90kph and animals should be transported in the carriages directly behind the engine so as to benefit from the smoother ride. All carriages should be specially adapted for the species they are to carry. Each carriage should have its own water and power supplies. Non-slip flooring; permanent drainage to air-trapped tanks to prevent spread of infection; ventilation and climate control systems are also required. Each carriage must have good keeper access and exit ramps for the animals should be designed to cope with any eventuality.

The overall aim of this part of the legislation must be to improve welfare during transportation by reducing discomfort; ensuring proper feeding and watering; guaranteeing sufficient rest and limiting stress. In addition, it must also ensure against the spread of disease.

Stop-over sites (Lots)

The lot chosen for a circus performance needs to be selected with care, both in terms of distance travelled between lots and the suitability of the site itself. The lot should be sufficiently sheltered from inclement weather, provide adequate space for the erection of outside exercise enclosures and enough shade for all the animals. It should not be on a site susceptible to fire or flood. It should also be sufficiently distant from main roads, train stations, factories, etc.; to reduce stressors such as unpleasant noise and odours. This will reduce the chance of the unexpected and thereby reduce risk.

Adequate provision of services such as electricity, potable water and drainage is essential.

Agreement must be reached with the local authority of the safe disposal of waste (including animal waste) and on the provision of security.

Adequate toilet and hand-washing facilities must be provided for the public.

“Winter quarters”, breeding stations, the static circus and circus act

Definition: any site where circus animals are kept over prolonged periods (i.e. more than six weeks) or where the breeding of circus animals takes place.

The provision for animal welfare and safety, animal training, and staff safety must be no less that that which is acceptable for a circus, or circus act, on the move.

Lots without public access:
 These sites must fully provide for all the animal management and staff safety  requirements of current zoo legislation. These provide only for the minimum  standards acceptable.

Lots with public access (more than 7 days per year):
 In addition to the above these sites must provide for all other requirements of  the current zoo legislation, including education, conservation and research.  As  with zoos they will be expected to provide all the services needed by the public  such as toilets, first aid, catering, etc.

Captive breeding

Appropriate control measures should be put in place to prevent indiscriminate breeding.

Breeding should be prohibited in all circuses on the move.

Breeding may only be considered when the conditions provided are fully compliant with requirements of the ‘Five Freedoms and Provisions’. An individual policy should be developed for each species kept, and should be subject to continual review.


These should be kept individually by each act (as many of these hire their services to the circus for periods of time and then move on) and by the circus itself. Records are needed both to allow for the proper management of the animals and in cases of dispute, etc. There are also important veterinary and CITES reasons, etc. for the keeping of accurate records.

All animals must be individually marked with a unique identified. We would recommend that this be an ISO standard microchip as they can be read anywhere within the EU. Each performing animal must also be issued with a PETS Passport. This passport should also contain a picture of the animal to aid identification as it is not always easy to approach to the animal in order to read the chip. The use of a photograph will help minimise animal handling and disruption to the circus. The photograph(s) should include identifying features whenever present, such as the distribution of vibrissae on a lion’s mussel or a notable scar. Without proper and absolute animal identification records are much less valuable, and it is much harder for authorities to track animals for the control of national and international trade.

Records may be kept in a card index system, on a computer or in another type of retrieval system so long as the information is readily accessed. The records must be kept in a safe place and for a period of not less than seven years so as to allow for the accountability of management and the traceability of animals over a reasonable period. Records should include:
• identification – including name, scientific name, photograph & digital identifier
• sex
• date [or estimated date] of birth or hatching
• origin [i.e. whether wild or captive-born] including identification of parents, where known,
• previous ownership, locations kept and movements [with dates]
• dates of entry into, and disposal from, the collection; and to whom
• distinctive markings, including tattoo, freeze-brands, rings, etc.
• body weights and dates
• information on the health of the animal including dates, and details of skin sloughing or moult for animals when appropriate
• veterinary records including details of, and dates when, medications, and any other forms of treatment were given
• behavioural data, normal and abnormal behaviours, reproductive status, etc.
• date of death and the result of any post-mortem examination and/or laboratory investigations
• injuries caused to an animal -  where when and how; what remedial action was taken
• escape of an animal - where when and how; what remedial action was taken.
• injuries caused by an animal -  where when and how; what remedial action was taken

In addition to the above, daily records should also be made in keepers’ ‘day-books’. These would include notes on feed used, quantities and quality; births and deaths; behaviour, sexual condition and health; visits by veterinarians, etc.; concerns, such as problems with caging, performance or transport; repairs or other remedial action taken. These records would be kept with the animals.


The number of staff available, their experience and level of training must be sufficient to ensure compliance with the ‘Standards’ at all times. An up to date list of all staff should be kept indicating levels of seniority, areas of responsibility and those authorised to work with the animals.

A fully competent member of staff who is able to make executive decisions must be available 24 hours a day.

Staff should be given the opportunity and encouraged to undertake continuing professional development (training)


Smoking should be prohibited except in designated areas. These must not be near the animals, or food preparation and storage areas.

General comments on education and conservation in circuses

It is emphasised in the EU Directives on Zoos that all zoos must contribute to education, conservation and research. These aims should also be demanded of circuses. In reality circus acts as currently performed have little or no educational merit: indeed they generally induce negative images of animal life, indicating only an animals’ utility and subjugation to man.

Accurate information about the species exhibited should be displayed. This ought to include the exhibit's name (both common and scientific), its natural habitat and distribution, some features of its biology and its conservation status.

For its conservation role the circus might develop partnerships with zoos and others active in the conservation of wildlife. It is important however that any conservation role is genuine, well thought out and peer reviewed. It should also be published.  Assistance may be provided through a variety of mechanisms including: funding, advice, donations, secondment of staff, and by contributing animals to established breeding programmes. A good example is that of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus supporting research into the herpes viruses of elephants in the USA.

Animal acts should be developed around themes that educate the spectator about the animals’ nature and behaviour. They should also provide positive messages about wildlife conservation.

Illness, aging and the retirement of animals

No animal should be encouraged to perform when unable to meet the requirements of the ‘Five Freedoms and Provisions’.  If an animal is unwell or showing signs of discomfort, weakness, or a reduction of responsiveness to its environs or trainer/presenter it should not be permitted to perform. Likewise, and for the same reasons, senile animals must not perform. 

Furthermore, chronically infirm or senile individuals and animals with arthritis and/or other disability may not be fit to travel.

It is incumbent on all owners of animals to look after animals throughout their life. Part of this includes planning for illness and old age. It is important all circuses and circus animal acts have a policy for dealing with these animals, and provides accordingly.

Animal recruitment and disposal

The acquisition of animals from the wild should be prohibited. Only legally acquired captive bred stock may be used in circuses, and each animal together with its origins must be recorded. Animals must not be acquired until the owners are able to fully provide for their welfare and the keepers have adequate knowledge and experience of their husbandry and training..

When an animal becomes surplus to requirements and a circus decides not to euthanase the animal, appropriate provision must be made to ensure for the welfare of that animal for the remainder of its lifetime. Should an animal be passed on to another it may only go to responsible persons who have the necessary facilities, expertise, resources and licensing to ensure for its ongoing welfare.

Inspection and licensing of circuses and animal acts

For legislation to be successful it needs to be seen to be fair, enforceable and properly policed. To this end the development of a qualified inspectorate and protocols for the inspections must be established. The inspection should examine the safety and welfare of the public, staff and animals, together with animal training and performance. It will also require a detailed inspection of the records, especially those relating to the welfare and transport of animals. As the legislation progresses through to ratification and beyond, we would ask that the Government continues to consult us on these issues.

Licenses should be granted by central government, for periods not exceeding five years. These licenses must allow for unannounced interim inspections and review of licenses, as necessary.  Adequate warning and appeal systems should be established for those whose licence is to be modified or revoked. All existing circuses and animal acts should be licensed within two years of the ratification of the legislation, and once the law is passed no new acts or circuses should be permitted without a license.

Each inspection team should include an experienced veterinarian together with a zoologist. It should also contain someone with experience of the management of public facilities and health and safety. It is envisaged that the cost of licenses to the circuses would be set at a level sufficient to cover costs.

In addition to a national license it is envisaged that local authorities would be given the responsibility of inspecting each site before the circus is allowed to open to the public. These smaller inspection teams would include a veterinarian and someone experiences in the management of public facilities.

Display of licences

The current licence and certificate of public liability insurance for the act, or a copy of them, must be prominently displayed (together with any endorsements) on the vehicle(s) used to transport the act, or cage (as appropriate), where they can be viewed by the public and authorities.

The current licence and certificate of public liability insurance for the circus, or a copy of them, must be prominently displayed (together with any endorsements) at all the entrance(s) to the circus where they can be viewed by the public and authorities. These must also be displayed at the entrance(s) to their “winter quarters”.

Contact telephone numbers for use in case of emergency should be prominently displayed at each entrance to the circus. These must also be displayed at the entrance(s) to their “winter quarters”. These telephone lines should be always available, 24 hours a day.

Implementation of the legislation

There will be welfare implications from a proper review of the legislation on circuses. To help achieve a smooth transition we propose that from the date of ratification there will be no further recruitment of prohibited animals into circuses and/or circus acts. Within six months each and every individual animal owned by circuses or animal acts in France will be uniquely identified with an ISO standard microchip and provided with a PETS Passport. Within two years all circus acts and circuses exhibiting wild animals in France will have been licensed and circuses will be prohibited from employing unlicensed acts (animal acts newly entering France will be given a period of three months grace in which to obtain a license to perform with animals). Temporary licenses, for the transition period only, will be given for animals to be banned under the new legislation. Within five years of the ratification of the legislation all animals whose use is prohibited under the new law (but have been given temporary licenses for the transition period) will no longer be permitted in circuses in France; this will allow time for these animals to be re-homed and for new acts to be developed, hence minimising the effects of the changes on the circus community.

Closure of circuses and circus acts

It should be the responsibility of the licensing authority to ensure the humane and satisfactory dispersal of animals when a circus or circus act fails. This would therefore provide for the animals in a similar fashion to the provisions of the EU Directive on Zoos.