Stop Circus Suffering

The science on suffering: Travelling

Frequent periods of transportation, and long periods in transporters, are the norm for animals in circuses.

2. Travelling

Frequent periods of transportation, and long periods in transporters, are the norm for animals in circuses. During a performance season, circuses can visit many different sites, all over the country, covering long distances by road and often staying at each site for just a few days before moving on. Consequently animals have to endure a lifestyle of continuous travel and unstable environments. For example, in 2005 Zippo’s Circus travelled over 1900 kilometres from January to October, and The Great British Circus travelled over 1000 kilometres between February and October.

Furthermore evidence from our observations shows that it is common practice for circus animals to remain on their transporters for many hours before and after a journey, due to workers being occupied with other activities (ADI observation data).

A scientific review of research on the transportation of horses concluded that:“Although some horses adapt to transport much better than others, transport is generally associated with lower reproductive rates, increased disease incidence, a temporary reduction in athletic performance and the alteration of many other physiological traits that are indicative of stress…Transported horses can be subjected to a wide range of potential stressors, including isolation from herd-mates, forced close proximity to unfamiliar or aggressive horses, novel or threatening surroundings, exposure to new pathogens, restraint of normal activity patterns, forced adoption of an abnormal posture, extremes in temperature, water and feed deprivation, and blowing dust and particulate matter. Transport has long been associated with morbidity in horses”. (Friend, 2001).

This paper was making particular reference to horses. In the remaining part of this chapter, we will present scientific support to show that these welfare problems occur across a wide range of species, across varied durations and conditions of transport. Proof that transport, which is a key factor in travelling circus life, is indeed a welfare problem for animals.

2.1 Exotic Species

  • Research on alpacas, ungulates of the camel family, (ungulates also include horse, deer, sheep, cattle, rhinoceros) shows that transport for just 30 minutes was sufficient to induce hypercortisolaemia, and it took four hours after transportation for serum cortisol levels to return to normal levels (Anderson et al., 1999). These animals were transported in familiar groups, for only 30 minutes to and from the research farm, i.e. their usual environments. However circus animals are often transported for longer periods, and transported to unfamiliar locations.
  • Circus tigers have shown a wide range of abnormal behaviours (coping strategies), whilst travelling, including stereotypic behaviours such as pacing, which increased as transport duration increased (Nevil & Friend, 2003; and ADI observation data).
  • In captive black rhinoceroses a connection between transport and the immediate development of a skin disease was found (Munson et al, 1998).
  • Many species are known to suffer from ‘capture myopathy’, a syndrome that occurs in wild (free ranging and captive) mammals and birds, and is associated with the stress of capture, restraint and transportation. In ungulates, the syndrome is characterised clinically by depression, muscular stiffness, lack of coordination, paralysis, metabolic acidosis and death (Montanè, 2002).

ADI has videotape evidence featuring stereotypic behaviours in almost all of the circus animal species examined, including horses and ponies, llamas, camels, giraffes, elephants, lions, tigers and bears.

2.2 Domestic Species

There are a multitude of studies on the transportation of horses and of other animals commonly used in agriculture, and this data can be read across to the travelling circus situation.

2.2.1 Horses

Horses are kept in travelling circuses, yet evidence shows that horses suffer during transportation. Equine expert and veterinary behaviourist, Paul McGreevy, discusses transportation of horses in his book ‘Equine behaviour – a guide for veterinarians and equine scientists’:

“Horses brace themselves against and in anticipation of the changes in momentum during road transport by adopting certain body postures (notably the base wide stance). Efforts expended by horses as they continually adjust their posture during transit reflect both muscular and emotional stress related to road conditions and the drivers’ behaviour. All of these efforts are readily evaluated by monitoring heart rates during transport. Horses have been shown to have higher heart rates in a moving vehicle than in a stationary vehicle, and although heart rates decreased significantly during a road journey, they did not return to resting levels. Transport stress may increase susceptibility to diseases, including an equine herpes virus and salmonellosis infections” (McGreevy, 2004).

  • A study on the effects of 24 hour transport in horses showed that “Plasma cortisol concentration increased during loading and the first 3 hours of transport and continued to rise throughout the 24 hours, to peak at the termination of transport…after the stressor (i.e. transportation) ceased, cortisol dramatically declined” (Stull & Rodiek, 2000).
  • Many studies show that transport induces weight loss in some animals. Immediately following transit in one study, the horses showed a 6% weight loss, which they thought could be due to “heat dissipation, sweat loss, and decreased gut fill during transit” but there was still a 3% deficiency in weight loss 24 hours after the transportation period (Stull & Rodiek, 2000).
  • The immune system of horses is compromised by the effects of transportation. Stull and Rodiek (2000) conclude that this could result in increased susceptibility of the horses to infectious diseases. Another similar study by Stull et al. (2004), found elevations in cortisol concentration, white blood cell count and other physiological changes which led to the same conclusion. It also acknowledges that “a small window of immunological uncertainty follows long-term transportation, enhancing the potential risk of infectious disease in susceptible individuals”.
  • Aggression among horses is increased during transportation, especially when many horses are transported together (Collins et al., 2000). It has been shown that about 20% of all horses receive some type of injury during transportation, most of which occurs to the head and face (Stull (1999) in Speer et al., (2001)). Another paper reports “many incidences of aggressive horses repeatedly biting an adjacent horse in an apparent effort to get the horse to move away” (Collins et al., 2000).

ADI observation data has included evidence of aggression in horses during transport, and in stable tents. Some animals cannot use exercise enclosures when these are provided, if they are aggressive or difficult (e.g. stallions).

2.2.2 Cattle

Transport is thought to be one of the most potent stressors for cattle (Fazio et al., 2005). Stressors involved in the transportation of cattle result in: altered nutritional status and animal behaviour, reduced body weight gain, feed consumption, and immune function, and increased mortality (Coffey, 2001).

  • Long term transportation in cattle has been found to increase secretion of ACTH (adrenocorticotropin), a hormonal regulator of immune responsiveness, and therefore exert a negative effect on the immune system. When the cattle are ‘rested’ and fed on board their transporter when it is stationary, their ACTH levels remain high and are only reduced when the cattle are removed from the truck and rested and fed in stalls for 24 hours (Dixit et al., 2001).
  • Transport stress induces an increase in the activity of thyroid and adrenal function in cattle that is evident after even short distance road transport and continues to increase after long distance transport (Fazio et al., 2005).
  • Studies have found that long term transportation in cattle results in an increase in heart rate and body temperature (Dixit et al., 2001).

2.2.3 Sheep

Transport compromises the welfare of sheep. Some studies have found experiences associated with loading to be particularly stressful.

  • There was an increase in core temperature in sheep after 2.5 hours of road transport (Parrot et al., 1999).
  • Sheep show heart rate and cortisol increases in response to transport (Baldock & Sibly, 1990., Cockram et al, 1996., Hall & Bradshaw, 1998).

2.3 Effects of Transport on Reproduction

Animals in circuses are transported throughout their life cycle, regardless of age, condition or reproductive status. Transporting animals whilst pregnant gives rise to particular cause for concern, as discussed in the scientific literature. For example:

  • Pregnant horses transported for 9 hours showed signs of prolonged stress which are associated with abortion or reabsorption of early pregnancies (a change in concentration of ascorbic acid in plasma and in tissue) (Baucus et al., 1990a). The study also showed that transportation caused increases in serum progesterone and cortisol, which are other indicators of stress.
  • Thirty mares were tested daily throughout one normal oestrous cycle and it was found that there was an increase in LH concentrations in transported mares (LH is a hormone that regulates the release of progesterone and oestrogen in female animals) and an increase in cortisol and in the concentrations of plasma ascorbic acid. The paper concludes that 12 hour transportation of mares induces “hormonal and plasma ascorbic acid responses indicative of stress” (Baucus et al., 1990b).

Whilst it is a common view that horses and other animals become accustomed to transport, we have not seen any scientific evidence that this is the case.

In ADI’s view, the fact that an animal is repeating an experience does not necessarily make it less traumatic, it may in fact sensitise it to the trauma.Many of the reference papers we have reviewed for the above describe the effects of a single journey, but one must assume that since multiple and frequent journeys are made by circus animals, at least some of these effects will be multiplied.

Excessive periods in transporters.

Case Study: Great British Circus.
Observations – 26 & 27 March 2006.

Journey: Laceby, Grimsby to Marston, Birmingham.

Actual journey time: 3 hours 25 minutes

2 Horses, 2 ponies, 4 reindeer, 4 llamas: Time spent on transporters (from
being loaded to being unloaded) 17 to 17.5 hours

9 Lions and tigers: 27 hours (on beastwagon before any access to exercise cage)

NB: A previously reported (‘Animals in UK Circuses’, 2003) a journey of just 15 miles took just 26 minutes; however the camels remained in their transporter for 4 hours and the tigers in their beastwagon for 24 hours.


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