The Hon’ble High Court of Kerala, through a just-released order passed by Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan V, has dismissed a petition filed by Great Bombay Circus challenging the order of the Judicial First Class Magistrate (JFCM), Thrissur, dated 11 May 2023. That order directed the seizure of four birds (three macaws and one cockatoo), who were used by the circus for performances, on account of a prima facie case for cruelty against them for mutilating their wings and preventing them from flying. The order also directed the circus to bear the cost of accommodation, treatment, and day-to-day maintenance of the birds upon rescue and to execute a bond of Rs 5,00,000 towards transportation and care expenses. The Hon’ble High Court concurred with the findings of the magistrate, stating it would not be appropriate to return the birds to the custody of the circus as prima facie the birds had been subjected to cruelty by the circus.
While upholding the decision of the trial court, the Hon’ble High Court relied upon the Supreme Court’s judgement in Animal Welfare Board of India v A Nagaraja & Ors (2014) 7 SCC 547, which laid emphasis on the five internationally recognised freedoms for animals: (1) freedom from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition; (2) freedom from fear and distress; (3) freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; (4) freedom from pain, injury, and disease; and (5) freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour. The Hon’ble High Court held that registration under the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules, 2001, framed under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, does not give the circus a blanket licence to train and exhibit animals without ensuring that their treatment aligns with recognised standards of animal welfare. The court further held that while dealing with animals seized pursuant to a complaint against the owner for cruelty to animals, the court is duty-bound to ensure the welfare of the captive animals and put in place adequate measures for their care and maintenance.
The order of the JFCM, Thrissur, was passed pursuant to a complaint by PETA India that resulted in a first information report against the circus for violations that include mutilating the birds’ wings to prevent them from flying and making them perform acts in contradiction to the circus’s registration and contrary to their natural behaviour. Per the directions of the JFCM, Thrissur, interim custody of the birds was awarded to the Thiruvananthapuram Zoo.
Several inspections by the Animal Welfare Board of India and numerous investigations by PETA India have proved that circuses that use animals are inherently cruel: the animals are continuously chained or confined to small, barren cages; deprived of veterinary care and adequate food, water, and shelter; and denied everything that’s natural and important to them. They’re forced to perform confusing, uncomfortable, and even painful tricks under threat of physical abuse with weapons. Many display stereotypic, repetitive behaviour indicative of extreme stress.
The birds will continue to recover peacefully in a naturalistic environment in which they will ultimately be able to fly. We urge everyone to avoid circuses that use live animals and to support only non-animal forms of entertainment.