Should we ban circuses?
How ADI are campaigning to bring circus suffering to an end
“The key thing that people don’t realise is that the whole point of a circus performance is to give an illusion,” says Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International. “They are not enjoying themselves.”
Animal Defenders International has spent the past 25 years campaigning to end the suffering of animals in the entertainment industry. As the UK Government announces a fresh commitment to ban wild animals in travelling circuses in England, Jan speaks to us about the work the ADI have done to expose the truth about the conditions animals face in travelling shows.
“We have investigated hundreds of circuses worldwide in the last 25 years, and we have found it to be consistent,” Jan begins. The animals are little more than a product, or a tool, that performs in order to make money.
“They are kept in very small, barren, deprived conditions. The animals are deprived of anything that would stimulate and interest them.
“If it’s a pony, it arrives in the truck, it’s unloaded. A stable tent is put up and the pony is put into a stall. It’s tied on a short rope, facing the wall… Sometimes they’re provided with exercise enclosures, but because of the numbers of animals, that has to be shared,” Jan explains.
They might get the opportunity to stretch their legs on grass,
or in a car park, but they have to take turns to prevent fights. Above all, Jan tells us, the animals need to be ready to perform. “If it is wet and they make a mess of themselves, they’d have to be cleaned before going into the show. So often they stay in the tents to keep them from getting dirty.”
Wild animals are less compliant than domestic animals, and they are often large and dangerous. Ultimately, this puts them at risk of abuse. ADI uses undercover agents to expose circus conditions, and their footage is harrowing.
Jan explains how their officers gather evidence. “They take work – any kind of job – caring for the animals, erecting equipment or tents. They get to know the routine of the circus and the routine of the animals. It is very important that their presence doesn’t influence the way the animals are treated.
“What we’re trying to get is a real-life view of what goes on. So we use hidden cameras.” This involves the team travelling from circus to circus to get a good picture of the culture across the industry.
“You see elephants chained to the ground by two legs, barely able to make one step backwards or forwards.
And those animals are standing for hour upon hour upon hour in the same position.” Jan tells us that, after ten or 20 years, these animals don't know how to do anything but rock back and forth. “Those kinds of movements become so psychologically ingrained that they close down.” The effect is devastating.
“We have two lady spectacled bears, Cholita and Dominga, and they are both completely bald from the stress of their captivity. Cholita has had two teeth taken out and her fingers have been cut off, and Dominga has similar problems.” Jan tells us that this is a common form of abuse of carnivores in circuses, and it’s done to prevent them attacking their keepers.
ADI rescue animals like Cholita and Dominga from circuses as they close down. “They can never live fully wild, but we do try to give them an environment that’s as close
“ADI uses undercover agents to expose circus conditions, and their footage is harrowing”
as possible to that. They each have their own fenced area of rainforest that is just for them. And, of course, they have each other for neighbours.”
To date, 43 countries have outlawed the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, and ADI are optimistic that a ban in the UK is coming. Their case hinges on three critical pieces of evidence. The first came in 1998, when three months of undercover footage revealed animal abuse at the hands of circus owner Mary Chipperfield. She subjected a baby chimpanzee to repeated beatings while keepers hit elephants with sticks, metal bars and bullwhips. As a result of the investigation, courts found Mary and her husband guilty of 12 cruelty charges.
“That was very significant because it was the first time that really accurate footage had been taken, detailed evidence had been presented and a conviction had been secured under the 1911 Protection of Animals Act,” Jan explains. The case went on to influence the 2006 Animal Welfare Act that now protects animals in the UK.
This new act detailed five critical welfare needs that must be met. Animals must have a suitable environment, a proper diet, and the opportunity to exhibit normal behaviour. Depending on the species, they need housing with, or apart from, other animals, and they must have protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease. ADI argue that travelling circuses cannot possibly meet all of these needs.
In 2012 they filmed Anne the elephant at Bobby Roberts’ circus. “She went into her barn at the end of the season and stayed there until the next season,” Jan tells us. “She was chained to the ground by two legs and only occasionally when she was in clear distress was she moved and the chain was swapped over to the other legs.” Like Mary Chipperfield before him, Mr Roberts also faced prosecution.
In the same year the UK Government drafted a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, and in the interim it introduced new regulations in an attempt to protect animals. The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations tried to solve the problem using licensing and inspection. But, as ADI found out, it just isn’t working.
“This was the Government’s attempt to take onboard the circus industry’s claims that they could protect the welfare of their animals,” explains Jan. “Even with the best will, and if they try as hard as they can, they can’t produce a picture of how those animals actually live day to day.
“At the exact time when a circus owner was saying to parliament that they don’t chain their elephants, we were able to show on the hidden camera that they were chained to the ground. According to the inspections that we filmed, inspections by local environmental protection officers and the RSPCA, the chains were removed before the inspection, and the hasps into the ground that the chains were fixed to were covered with straw.”
In another piece of footage, a male tiger attacked and badly injured a female lioness. “An inspection was due, so they took the injured lioness and put her in the back of a cage and then covered her up with bales of straw. The inspector stood outside that cage discussing the animals with the circus owner and had no idea she was there.
“We wanted to prove to the Government that, even with inspection, it was very easy for circuses to cover up what is happening to the animals,” Jan tells us. “In these circumstances you simply cannot say that you can protect these animals.”
Amid mounting evidence, the Welsh Government commissioned Bristol University to review the data. In a
“She was chained to the ground by two legs and only when she was in distress was the chain swapped over
study published in 2016 they looked at 764 peer-reviewed scientific papers and consulted 658 international experts and organisations. They spoke to trainers, vets, biologists, lawyers, species experts, sanctuaries and zoos. Their conclusion was that life for animals in circuses “is not worth living”.
The UK Government originally promised a ban on wild animals in travelling circuses before the end of 2015. A bill was read for the first time in 2016 and was due to be read again on Friday 12 May, 2017. However, parliament then dissolved on the 3 May in preparation for a General Election and the bill was consequently sidelined. Now the Government has once again promised to end the practice in England, with a final deadline set for January 2020.
Only time will tell if they can achieved this aim.
“This is an issue whose time has come,” Jan says. “The evidence has built, the public has seen the evidence, the Government has accepted the evidence and time has come for real change. This is the moment for animals in entertainment and especially for animals in circuses.”
Two circuses still perform in England with wild animals: Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus. For Jan the crux of the argument is about how we treat the other species that share our planet. “Is it right to make animals suffer just for a few minutes of human entertainment?”
ADI put out Facebook alerts when they want people to take action, and Jan has an extremely important message for all World of Animals readers: “If you get involved with ADI’s campaigns, you absolutely will make a difference.”
ABOVE Animals perform tricks against their natural instincts, like jumping through a burning ring
LEFT An elephant performs tricks during Circus Krone in Germany 2017
ABOVE Tigers learn tricks at Heilongjiang Siberian Tiger Park in China
Lion tamers perform daring feats to impress circus crowds, often resulting in distress for the animals