Stop Circus Suffering

How regulations are failing animals in British circuses

Inspection reports and licence applications released to ADI under the Freedom of Information Act reveal how regulations are failing the animals.

Ahead of the ban on wild animals in circuses announced by the Government in 2012, a licensing system – opposed by ADI and other animal groups – was introduced as a temporary measure, estimated by Defra to cost £135,000/year. The circuses pay less than £400 a year for a licence, a figure which has not increased for three years, and just £72 an hour for inspections. Despite being branded in some quarters as a success, inspection reports and licence applications released to ADI under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the regulations are failing the animals.

A travelling circus can never provide wild animals with the facilities they need. Animals live almost the entire year in temporary accommodation, in cages that must be small enough to be packed up each week and moved to a new site. They are handled and controlled in ways that no other captive wildlife is forced to endure and they spend excessive hours shut in their transporters. These are all welfare problems that are simply inherent to the industry and cannot be addressed by standards. ADI has revealed on a number of occasions – such as at Mary Chipperfield Promotions and Bobby Roberts Super Circus, the owners of which were prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act as a result of ADI evidence – how inspections repeatedly fail to identify welfare issues, with circuses previously covering up injured animals, abuse and poor husbandry, You can read more in our Out of Control report here

Two circuses are currently licensed to tour with wild animals – Peter Jolly’s Circus and Circus Mondao – and the documents provided to ADI together with our own evidence show that the welfare of the animals is not and cannot be protected and public safety is being put at risk.

For their licence application, circuses are required to provide details of their tour itinerary, list of animals to be licensed, the current location of the animals to be licensed, individual records, care plans and a list of authorised persons. The circuses’ first applications, released by Defra in May 2013, showed that details were omitted or breaches identified, resulting in additional administrative time and expense.

Each inspection report published since the regime was introduced has also raised a number of welfare issues, as outlined below, and raise questions as to the veracity of some of the statements made, as inspector/s have recounted and relied upon information that has been provided by circus staff, rather than witness for themselves firsthand.

Circus Mondao

During the most recent inspection at the winter quarters, with prior notice, the circus was warned that the reindeer enclosure was “only just adequate” and that the animals, on display to the public, were not being constantly supervised by staff. This matter had been raised at a previous inspection and despite a follow up visit and assurances from the circus, the reindeer continued to be in close contact with the public unsupervised. Even while the inspector was there the animals were hand fed by a child. The inspector told the circus they were in breach of their licence but no further action was taken. A further inspection took place, by which time the reindeer had been moved away from the public.

Inspection reports received since the introduction of the licensing system have also raised other concerns.

The camels’ paddock at the winter quarters, adjacent to a busy main road, had two top rails missing which the circus was requested to immediately replace. Although this had been done when the inspector made a follow-up visit, “other sections of the perimeter still required reinforcement or replacing”. Access to a large field had also been restricted due to the weather and one of the camels (who both appear to be infertile) had “mange-like lesions on both hind legs” for which medication was given. A camel also suffered from a recurring wound on her hock.

Because the reindeer are castrated they do not naturally shed their antlers, which become “brittle and deformed”. The standard practice is to treat them with hormone injections to encourage the antlers to shed but these “cause behavioral changes in the animals and can incite aggression. This has occurred in the two reindeer who fought overnight the night before the inspection. The animals therefore have broken antlers.” This was discussed with the circus and the animals were to be separated when the injections are administered and not reintroduced until the antlers had dropped. The reindeer had also previously shown signs of ‘significant pruritis’, causing distress and coat loss.

Following the death of their companion a zebra was kept next to a pony; although members of the same biological family, the two are different species with different needs and are unnatural companions.

Licence requirements: The reindeer care plan had “been modified in line with the recommendations since the inspection”. The welfare risk assessments submitted on application were “not appropriate” but following discussions during the inspection these were resubmitted. The contingency plan regarding transport was discussed and since the inspection a new document submitted. The preventative medicine care plan was changed without being noted in the written plan. Following the inspections the circus was reminded to “renew your licence in good time” however no application had been submitted by 22nd January despite the tour commencing in mid February and Defra saying that the application would take up to six weeks to process.

Read the latest inspection report here

Peter Jolly’s Circus

An announced inspection of Peter Jolly’s Circus took place while on tour and during the visit the microchips of the big cats were read by the inspector; two of the animals could not be coaxed into the ‘crush cage’ and efforts to do so were ceased on instruction of the inspector to “protect human safety and animal welfare” and the animals were identified by other means. This is not the first time that issues have arisen with the reading of microships. Reading the animals’ microchips has been an ongoing issue but the Jolly’s licence application for the 2015 season confirms that the big cats presented by Thomas Chipperfield will not be part of the show this year.

The circus has obtained an additional reindeer, taking the total number of wild animals in the show to 14. They are also planning to breed the zebra, despite being well aware that a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses has been agreed by MPs and legislation has been prepared with an implementation date of December 2015.

Licence requirements: During a previous inspection of the winter quarters, the following breaches were identified: details of the tour itinerary had not been provided and welfare risk assessments did not contain the necessary information. The Defra Licensing Panel wrote to the inspector that “the circus should have sufficient experience to assess the risks at this stage” and that they “would also have expected that a generic contingency plan for travel disruption would have accompanied the journey plan templates”; following further communication the Panel’s remaining concern related to the circus’ “provisions for transport and display” which had not been assessed. Incredibly it was agreed that the cost for undertaking the additional visit for the inspector to assess these be borne by Defra, not the circus – the inspector subsequently responded that it would not be possible to assess training as the circus “only begin training once the circus is on tour” and as they were not going to start a tour until they had a licence, it was a “chicken and egg scenario”. The claim that training only takes place whilst the circus is on tour is highly questionable and not supported by twenty years of studies of circus practices.

The inspector’s report highlighted another flaw in the licensing regime after the Panel noted that the minimum sizes of the raccoon and snake enclosures were not provided with the Jolly’s application. The inspector responded that the raccoon enclosure was 1.5m x 2m (twice this size during the summer months) but that no minimum size for the species was provided in the guidance document.

Three snakes had been allowed to get to an “advanced” state of putrefaction, preventing a post-mortem examination to determine their cause of death. Tests on the remaining snakes identified A Salmonella, Clostridia and E Coli bacteria, with the probable cause of death Clostridial Septicaemia.

Despite the circus having been advised to provide water for animals in the pre-performance holding area, this has repeatedly not been provided. Additionally, water for the tigers to bathe in was withheld, denying them the ability to perform this natural behaviour, albeit in a small tub of water.

Veterinary records were found to be incomplete for the fox, raccoon and snakes, and vets paperwork was missing for a tuberculosis test for the ankole – a type of African cow. Humidity readings for the snake vivarium were also not recorded. Previously released documents revealed that the dates of birth for 12 of the 15 animals – fox, raccoon, snakes and reindeer – are apparently unknown.

The raccoon’s enclosure size was noted, as previously, as being “only just acceptable”. The largest snake was also unable to fully extend its body and a branch was recommended and fitted in the vivarium to allow the animal to do so.

Despite recent evidence from ADI of llamas tethered in full view of the big cats, inspectors found that “No susceptible prey animals were in view of the big cats”. This shows how the inspection regime cannot provide a candid picture of life for the animals in the circus and fails to protect them. ADI has revealed incidents of abuse that were missed by inspections and exposed instances where circuses have purposely duped inspectors by hiding elephant leg chains and even a severely injured lioness.

A lack of information about and understanding of the needs of the animals were also highlighted by some of the details given and comments made by the circus in their licence application. The dates of birth for 12 of the 15 animals was apparently unknown. In the retirement plan for the camel, the application states the species do not  “desire anything other than a diet that sustains them, housing that is minimal to their needs and grazing that give them daily movement and sustenance”, failing to acknowledge the natural behaviours seen in camels. In the retirement plan for the fox, the circus claims that the animal “was one of two foxes which were orphaned shortly after they were born and Peter Jolly took them in and reared them with the intention of returning them to the countryside” – if this is indeed true, the fox should have been passed to a reputable wildlife rescue that would have successfully rehabilitated and released the animal into the wild. In the retirement plan for the raccoon, the application claims the animal has “adapted well within the circus environment and has embraced the hustle bustle of circus life”.

Read the inspection report here / Read the circus licence application here 

Take action to secure the British ban!

  • Contact William Hague MP, Leader of the House of Commons, and ask him to allocate parliamentary time to the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill.
  • Contact Prime Minister David Cameronand ask him to fulfil the promise to end the use of wild animals in travelling circuses and ensure Parliamentary time is given to the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill.
  • Contact your MP– in person if you possibly can! – remember they probably support the Bill, but we need their help: ask them to back the Bill and press the Government to allocate time for it;  and ensure their party is committed to a ban in their manifestos
  • Make a donation– ADI is securing lasting change for circus animals around the world, help us do more!
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