Stop Circus Suffering

The science on suffering: Summary of scientific case

Collectively the evidence provided here demonstrates that animals, whether exotic or domesticated, are likely to be suffering as a result of living in a travelling circus.

5. Summary of scientific case

Collectively the evidence provided here demonstrates that animals, whether exotic or domesticated, are likely to be suffering as a result of living in a travelling circus–

  • transport has been shown to cause many indicators of stress, for example increased heart rates, rises in body temperature, lowered immunity to illness and disease, changes in hormone levels that are known to affect pregnancies, weight loss, increased instances of aggression and stereotypic behaviours.
  • husbandry practices which are inadequate and space limitations make it impossible for animals to express normal behaviour. This is turn leads to high levels of stereotypies and other abnormal behaviours, increased aggression towards other animals, increased susceptibility to disease, greater mortality and the presence of physiological indicators of stress.
  • Inappropriate social groupings cause a multitude of negative effects on animals–

– Isolation or separation from companions leads to complex changes in behaviour, often a decreased interest in surroundings, stereotypies, increased heart rate and vocalisations, and higher levels of physiological stress indicators.
– Animals forced to live in close proximity with one another show increases in fighting and competitive behaviours and greater incidences of stereotypies.
– When different species are mixed or have to live in close proximity to one another, they show a range of avoidance behaviours and spend more time being alert, as well as increases in heart rate and other physiological stress indicators.
– When predators are in close proximity to prey, the prey species show anxiety behaviours, changes in the nervous system, a suppression of feeding and grooming behaviours, often a lowered breeding success and when they do breed, the presence of predator odour can lead to smaller litter sizes and hinder the normal development of the young.


It is important to remember that in a circus–

  • living space is necessarily limited to the back of a lorry;
  • exercise enclosures, if erected, are frequently not used by some (or all) of the animals due to time restrictions in the working day; not enough space; difficult, competitive or aggressive animals;
  • animals are frequently being transported to different parts of the country;
  • animals are left shut in their transporters for many hours longer than a journey has taken to complete;
  • animals are vulnerable to abuse due to inadequately trained staff, working under time pressure.

The balance of this evidence suggests that the horse is a sentinel for suffering.

Whilst horses have a long-established relationship with humans, there is clear evidence of the suffering of horses in all aspects of circus life. Therefore, how much more will other species, especially those more inherently fearful of humans, suffer?

We have seen no evidence of an absence of suffering as a result of the conditions imposed on animals in travelling circuses. Which begs the question, how much should a civilised society allow animals to endure, for the sake of entertainment?

The case of Narla

The case of Narla
The case of Narla

Tigers are naturally solitary animals, normally coming together only for mating. However in the circus they are kept in groups in crowded conditions, and sometimes the large cat species are even grouped together.

Narla, a lioness with Circus Harlequin (now known as The Great British Circus) was attacked and mauled by a male tiger. She was described by workers as being “close to death”. Narla was treated for her injuries by her presenter, Alex Lacey (a director of the circus), and remained on tour.

At the time the circus was advertising itself as “RSPCA Inspected”. By coincidence a local RSPCA inspector paid a visit shortly after the attack. The workers quickly hid the semi-conscious Narla behind bales of straw. The RSPCA official stood just feet from the stricken lioness chatting to the circus workers, completely unaware of her presence.

The incident confirms several problems: The dangers of attack and injury to big cats when travelling with circuses through workers’ ignorance of the needs of the animals in their care; that sick and injured animals continue to tour; the temporary nature of the circus encampment with its multiple vehicles, cages, and equipment make the concealment of a sick animal relatively easy.


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