Circuses: No Fun for Animals

“But for the use of physical punishment by, and fear of, their oppressors, animals would never be a part of a circus.”
– Richard Pryor, American actor and comedian

Animals who are forced to travel and perform with circuses lead miserable lives. Unlike human performers, animals do not choose to do tricks. Through the use of fear, pain and hunger, handlers force animals to do things they would never do in nature. When animals in circuses are not performing, they are kept chained or tethered or are confined to cages barely larger than their own bodies. When they become ill, they rarely receive proper veterinary care.


Life in a Travelling Circus

In their natural homes, animals spend much of their time roaming, searching for food, taking care of their young and spending time with members of their families. In the circus, they are denied all of this. Instead of being allowed to move freely, they are kept chained and caged for most of the day and night. Their only exercise comes during training sessions and performances, when they are intimidated into doing acts that are meaningless and unnatural to them.

For example, birds used in circuses often have their wings clipped, which prevents them from engaging in their most important natural behaviour: flying. Horses are often kept tethered with short ropes, and dogs are locked in cages. Elephants are routinely beaten to keep them docile.

When the show is over, the animals are forced back into their cages or are shackled or tied, loaded onto lorries and taken to the next town. There is never a break from the endless travel.

Humane organisations investigating circuses around the world have found that trainers starve and beat animals to make them obey. Animals go from fear and pain during performances and training to the excruciating boredom of their cages. This pattern often results in neurotic behaviour, such as endless pacing, self-mutilation and constant rocking.


Cruelty to Animals in Indian Circuses

Cruelty has been documented in numerous Indian circuses; the following are some examples:

  • According to the group People for Animals Bangalore, animals with the Rajkamal Circus, Bangalore, were kept crammed inside rusty cages, living in filth amid their own waste. One lion was missing an eye, and several other animals were suffering from untreated wounds.
  • At the Grand National Circus, inspectors found animals confined to small cages with little to no space to move about, including four lion cubs who were all crammed into a single small cage. Elephants had been driven mad from continuous chaining, and  none of the circus’s animals had access to food or water.
  • Some years ago, The Empire Circus was found to be travelling with 10 tigers, 10 lions and a Himalayan bear in violation of the Supreme Court ruling banning the Circus Federation of India from using lions, tigers, panthers, bears and monkeys in shows. Elephants were forced to spend all their time shackled by three feet, horses were tied with short ropes and unable to move freely, dogs suffered miserably in cramped cages and cockatoos were kept in small cages without perches, forcing them to cling to the sides of the cage. PETA India immediately filed a report on this cruelty with the Animal Welfare Board of India.
  • Animals used by the Kohinoor Circus suffered injuries as a result of being transported in cramped, unsafe cages. The circus was also found to be using endangered animals – including a pregnant Royal Bengal tiger – in violation of a Supreme Court ruling that bans the exhibition and training of endangered animals.
  • Two of the four chimpanzees, ranging in age from 10 to 43 years, forced to travel and perform with the Great Royal Circus were found to be suffering from injuries and illness. One chimpanzee, 22-year-old Lakshmi, could not sit or stand and was discovered lying in a blood-stained bed. After being rescued by Blue Cross Chennai and People for Animals Chennai, a veterinary exam revealed that Lakshmi was paralysed. She died a short time later.
  • The Gemini Circus prevented horses, camels and elephants from moving by tying the animals’ hind legs. Dogs were forced to live in cramped wooden enclosures, and all the cages and food dishes were filthy.
  • At the Jumbo Circus, inspectors found a chained chimpanzee frantically jerking and pulling on the chain in a desperate attempt to escape. They also discovered that a hippopotamus was suffering from an eye disease and that Indian parrots kept by the circus did not have proper ownership certificates.

Inadequate Enforcement of Laws

Laws designed to protect animals in India have been enacted, including the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 (PCA Act), the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules of 2001 under the PCA Act, the Wild Life Protection Act of 1972, as amended in 1991 (WLPA), the International C.I.T.E.S. (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) treaty and provisions under the Indian constitution. However, these laws are not always enforced. Officials often turn a blind eye to abusive treatment of animals and other violations of the law when circuses come to town.

Although former Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Maneka Gandhi implemented a ban on circus’s use of bears, monkeys, tigers, lions and panthers in October 1998, circuses have largely disregarded the regulation.

Humane organisations and individuals can work to ensure that existing laws are enforced. PETA India has filed cruelty and neglect charges against circuses and has rescued 18 lions, 10 tigers and a liger (a lion/tiger hybrid) from the Grand National Circus and the Empire Circus. Click the links to learn more.

Circuses Hurt Humans Too

Every year, animals in circuses around the world snap as a result of the stress and pain they endure. It is impossible for circuses to protect trainers and audiences completely. Animals routinely attack their handlers and members of the public; the following are a few recent examples:

  • In Nallasopora, a tiger in the Grand National Circus hit a small child with his paws. The circus had set up the cages housing lions and tigers in an open area used as a playground by children living nearby.
  • In Kamarkundu, a tiger mauled a worker at the Olympic Circus while the animal was being forced to jump through a fireball soon after the show began.
  • In West Bengal, a trainer was mauled to death by three tigers during an act that required nine tigers to jump over the trainer and then pass through a ring.

You Can Help

  • Never pay to see performances by circuses that use animals.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, detailing the cruelty inherent in animal-based circuses.
  • Call your local radio and television stations and ask them to air messages about circus cruelty.
  • If you learn that an animal circus is coming to your area, contact city officials and the media and ask that the shows be cancelled.
  • When a circus comes to your town, find out if it using banned animals (ie, lions, tigers, panthers or bears). PETA can provide advice and guidance on what actions to take if you discover that a circus is using these animals.
  • Organise a demonstration to educate circusgoers about how animals are treated behind the scenes. PETA India can supply posters and leaflets and advise you on inviting the media.