Stop Circus Suffering

The science on suffering: Introduction

ADI believes, as a result of our empirical evidence from observation data, videotape and photographs, that animal suffering is inherent in the travelling circus environment. We have backed up this evidence with further research in the scientific literature on the effects upon animals of transport and confinement.

ADI believes, as a result of our empirical evidence from observation data, videotape and photographs, that animal suffering is inherent in the travelling circus environment. We have backed up this evidence with further research in the scientific literature on the effects upon animals of transport and confinement.

ADI Field Officers work alongside circus workers recording daily routines, husbandry practices and physical and psychological effects on the animals, using notes, videotape and photographs. Apart from our evidence there is little data available on the accommodation, husbandry practices and effects on animals of travelling with a circus.

We have therefore reviewed and discussed the scientific literature available on studies of animals during transport, in confinement and in captivity for other industries such as zoos, transport of horses as well as laboratory studies. This information can be read across to the travelling circus situation.

We believe that the evidence presented here confirms that animal suffering is inherent in the travelling circus. It confirms that suffering is not restricted to wild (or exotic) species but is evident in all species, including domesticated species. Indeed the view that it is only ‘wild’ animals that might suffer appears to be based more upon assumption than actual evidence.

Moreover it is of concern that the 1997 Transport of Animals Regulations provide exemptions for animals that live on their transporter, for example that such animals are not required to be unloaded for rest periods. This means that whilst animals transported for purposes of agriculture or other activities must be unloaded at intervals for food and resting, circus animals may stay on board. This is an unacceptable state of affairs, considering there is evidence to demonstrate that remaining on a transporter after the duration of a journey is detrimental to animal health and welfare (see 2.2.2 and Section 6 onwards).

Sections 2 to 5 of this report contain our review and discussion of the scientific literature on animal suffering during transport, captivity and confinement.

Sections 6-12 contain a summary of ADI’s empirical evidence based upon studies which now amount to tens of thousands of hours of observations and hundreds of hours of videotape.

Welfare & Stress

In the following review of the scientific literature we have covered both wild and domestic species, including cattle, sheep, pigs and deer.

The behavioural repertoire of a domestic animal is still highly influenced by its wild ancestry, i.e. herding behaviour in both domestic and wild horses, predator responses in domestic and wild herbivores, therefore studies on domestic species give an indication to how related exotic species may respond to certain stimuli.

The definition of welfare we will use here is the following: “The welfare of an animal is determined by its capacity to avoid suffering and sustain fitness”(Webster, 1994; 2005). Suffering is defined as “to undergo or experience pain or loss or damage or disablement” (The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1981) and includes mental as well as physical suffering. “Sustaining fitness” includes mental and physical fitness and it is a positive aspect of the animal’s life. So, welfare is not just about ‘doing things’ to animals to make them feel better and to keep them fit (feed them well, inject them against disease), but is more importantly about giving the animal some degree of control over its environment (Broom, 1991; Webster, 1994; 2005). Animals should have some degree of control over their environment in order to be able to avoid pain and mental suffering and to be able to work to maintain a degree of fitness compatible with continued existence.

Measuring welfare is difficult, but in the scientific literature a number of possible welfare indicators can be found. For example, physiological indicators of a reduced welfare can be an elevated heart rate or an elevated cortisol level; a behavioural indicator of a reduced welfare can be the occurrence of stereotypical behaviour (Broom & Johnson, 1993).

A stereotypy is a repeated, relatively invariate sequence of movements, which has no obvious function (Broom & Johnson, 1993). Stereotypies provide good indicators of long-term coping problems and have been described in, for example, battery hens and in pigs (Fraser (1975) in Maas (2000)), circus tigers (Nevil & Friend, 2003), horses (Brion (1964) in Maas (2000)) and autistic children and prisoners (Levy (1944) in Maas (2000)), as well as in many other species in farms, zoos, laboratories and other captive situations. It is important to note that in the wild abnormal behaviours like stereotypies do not arise.

Broom & Johnson (1993) state “In natural conditions, animals are constantly stimulated by changes in their physical and social environments. Where animals are brought under closer environmental control, on farms, in zoos, or in people’s homes as pets, the levels of some of the components of stimulation are reduced, while others are increased”. Animals have expectations of the consequences of different types of activity; where these do not materialise, the animals are not able to utilise fully their own array of controlling procedures (Broom & Johnson, 1993). Some animals respond to a lack of stimulation and a lack of control over their environment with apathy, others with stereotypies or an increased aggression (Broom & Johnson, 1993). Both a lack of stimulation and a lack of environmental control are inherent in circus life. Stereotypies are particularly evident in ‘wild’ species but also seen in domestic animals, such as farm animals and horses.

Broom & Johnson (1993) state: “…, in most cases we do not know whether a stereotypy is helping the individual to cope with the conditions, has helped in the past but is no longer doing so, or has never helped and has always been a behavioural pathology. But in all cases the stereotypy indicates that the individual has some difficulty in coping with the conditions, so it is an indicator of poor welfare”.

The second concept is stress. Stress can be defined as “stimulation beyond the capacity for complete adaptation” (Broom & Johnson, 1993), i.e. that the animal’s coping mechanisms are taxed. When these mechanisms break down, the result is distress.

Conclusions on Evidence from literature

The travelling circus is not a suitable environment for an animal, because restrictions of space, time, mobility of equipment and facilities mean that no animal will be able to behave as it would in its natural environment. Many of the species commonly kept in circuses have highly specialised behaviour, making it impossible to cater for them in the circus.

We acknowledge that suffering in both humans and animals is difficult to prove. However if animals are behaving in a way that would give rise to concern were they any other species, then we should assume that such concern is justified until proven otherwise; it should be a reflection of a humane society to allow the potential victims the benefit of the doubt.

The following is a brief review of the scientific evidence forming the basis of our opinion.

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