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Circuses - Living conditions

Animals affected

Reptiles, Felines, Primates, Ungulates, Dogs, Dromedaries, Hippos, Horses, Crocodiles, Zebras, Giraffes, Elephants, Tigers, Lions, Camels






In travelling circuses the animals are constantly on the move, not just from one city to another, but also from one country to another. This means that they don’t have permanent facilities which can be minimally adapted to their needs. Instead they have to live in trailers or trucks in which they are moved about most of the time. They are only allowed out of these trucks in order to perform or between performances. This means that the rest of the time they are kept tied up, or in a tent next to the truck, or a temporary compound is put up for them with some bars and a bit of straw, wherever the circus sets up its camp. This is even done with some large mammals like elephants or hippos.

As well as this the animals are forced to work and carry out unnatural behaviour for long periods of time.

The scientific evidence compiled over the years shows the the impact of belonging to the circus seriously affects the animal’s wellbeing. Ultimately, the travelling lifestyle of the circus cannot guarantee that the animals will be offered an adequate living space nor that they will have the correct diet. Neither are they guaranteed to be able to develop basic natural behaviour, such as swimming or bathing, hunting, satisfying their social needs by living in a group, connecting with other members of their own species, resting during the day if they are a nocturnal species, etc. All these failings may cause serious problems like physiological responses to stress, emotional suffering, depression, the appearance of abnormal behaviour, diseases and physical suffering.

In the wild elephants cover up to 50 Kms per day and hippos cover up to 10km. The territories in which lions live may cover more than 220 Km2 and that of tigers up to 180 Km2.

Unfortunately the list of animals used in circuses is quite long. Baboons, camels, dromedaries, llamas, zebras, crocodiles, seals, sea lions, bears, etc. But even so, we can note a few species which are widely used and seem to be “emblematic” for the circus, these are elephants, tigers, lions, hippos and giraffes.

Elephants: in the wild they enjoy a very complex social life. They live in matriarch-led herds of several dozen individuals and establish close ties to one another, even crying at the death of a companion. For this species the simple fact of living in solitude and without the company of other elephants is, in itself, abuse, just as it would be for a human being. They are highly intelligent nomadic animals. What is more, they need to drink a large quantity of water, have access to it in order the bathe, and they require a lot of space as they move up to 50 Km per day.

In the circus all of these needs are suppressed and for that reason elephants suffer not only serious emotional problems, such as stereotypies, apathy and depression, but also physical problems, such as, arthritis and severe limping, due to the time spent chained up or because they were expected to perform so many unnatural postures.  

Tigers: They are solitary animals which only live with females during the breeding season. Their territory may extend up to 180 Km2. They are hunters and their physical structure is designed to run, jump, climb and cover great distances. Also, tigers love water and can swim long distances.

In the circus they are forced to live in trailer cages with other tigers, or even with other felines, which causes great stress and frustration. They cannot do the exercise they need or have access to water.

Lions: They are highly social creatures that live in groups of up to 20 individuals. They rest and socialise during the day and get active at night. The territories in which they live may extend more than 220 Km2.

Lions suffer a lot from noise, traffic and the close proximity of people and other species.

Tigers and lions, along with other carnivores which live on vast territories, are those which have higher stress levels and psychological problems. Most of them show signs of stereotypic, self-destructive or abnormal behaviour.

Hippos: are semiaquatic animals whose body has adapted to the life of an amphibian. In the circus they may receive a hose down once in a while, but not much more. In the wild they move about 10 Km per day. They are particularly active at night. They live in groups of up to 100. In the circus they are lonely, they have a very limited space and they are also forced to perform unnatural acts.

Giraffes: in the wild they are gregarious and peaceful. They live in groups of several individuals and cover a wide range of territory looking for food. They have a highly specialised diet of leaves and shoots which they can reach at the very top of trees.

Due to their size transportation and accommodation can be quite complicated. And as they are also hard to tame, their performance is limited to making them walk around the ring a couple of times.

Giraffes are herbivores and so they are constantly alert, even when resting. In the circus that state is heightened, causing them high levels of stress, aggravated by a lack of space. 

Our action

At the state level

Through InfoCIRCOS, a coalition made up of the organisations ANDA, Born Free Foundation and FAADA. It was founded in order to protect all wild animals used in circus shows, both in Spain and in other European countries.

  • In areas where there are still circuses with animals, we lobby local government so that they declare the area to be “free from circuses with wild animals”.
  • We offer advice to political parties, organisations and private individuals who are interested in promoting a ban on the use of animals in circuses.
  • We call on the competent authorities (Seprona) to carry out inspections of  circuses in order to check that all the animals are legal and the conditions they are subjected to follow the legislation of animal protection of the different autonomous regions. We also call on them to ensure the enforcement of the laws on the use of potentially dangerous animals, animal trading laws (CITES), etc.
  • We keep citizens informed and aware of the problem areas of having animals in circuses.
  • We put pressure on town councils when a circus performing in their area violates a law. We ask to see all the official paperwork required for the circus to set up in that area.
  • We give talks in schools on the problems involved in the use of wild and domestic animals in the circus.
  • We help rescue illegal or abused animals which have been seized, and relocate them to rescue centres and/or sanctuaries.


At European level

  • Via the coalition of European animal welfare organisations ENDCAP, active since 2006 and made up of 20 organisations from 17 different European countries. They are working to improve conditions for wild animals which are held in captivity.
  • We work with other professionals in Europe to identify solid arguments which support the ban on using wild animals in circuses.
  • We put together technical reports in order to bring to light the problem areas which the different species in the circus develop.
  • We lobby the European Commission and MEPs so that they become aware of the problems of animal well-being involved in these activities, as well as the growing rejection to animals in circuses by society. 
  • From the coalition we support the national bans on the use of wild animals in circuses.
  • We bring to light the inconsistency of the use of animals listed in CITES in the circus.
  • We carry out awareness campaigns among citizens of different European countries on the problems with having wild animals in the circus.


What can you do?

  • Choose not to go to circuses which have animals, there are alternatives such as musicals, theatre and even circuses which don’t use animals. There are famous circuses with a very high standard, such as the Circ du Solei.
  • Let your friends and family know about the problem of animals in the circus.
  • Distribute our posters (lionchimpanzeeseal) and leaflets “Circuses are no fun for animals”.
  • Ask for our information material by writing to: circos@infocircos.org
  • Use our material to organise protests and/or demonstrations.
  • Collect signatures and present them to the mayor to ask him/her not to allow access of circuses with animals into your town.
  • Ask schools to tell children the truth about animals in the circus.


Other sources



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