Stop Circus Suffering

Business as usual for wild animal circus exposed by ADI

In April 2016 Animal Defenders International revealed the miserable life of the animals at Peter Jolly’s Circus when they are not touring. The circus is one of two licensed to perform with wild animals in England.

During extensive observations of the circus’ Shropshire-based winter quarters during 2015 and 2016, ADI filmed:

  • Appalling overcrowding
  • Fighting between animals
  • A worker spitting in the face of and tormenting a camel
  • Ponies tangled in short tethers
  • Animals crammed in a run-down building for 14 hours a day
  • Some animals shut in the dilapidated building for days on end
  • On one occasion, animals tethered for up to 40 hours
  • Government regulations ignored

We submitted our shocking findings to Defra and called on them to “expedite the ban on wild animals and review the use of domestic species, who have the same basic welfare needs as wild species”.

Four months later we received their response.

Animals denied access to outdoors

Defra statement: “According to Jolly’s records, there were periods when the licensed animals were kept in their barn for longer than would be expected in normal conditions. These periods were identified in the circus’ records (as well as by cross-checking with independent records taken from climatological records for the area) as periods coinciding with adverse weather conditions. The inspector confirmed that he noted that on some dates animals had been indoors for longer periods than recommended. However, at the time he considered adverse weather conditions as a reasonable reason to keep the animals indoors. We noted that over longer periods though this can prevent the animals from being exercised in accordance with their needs and we have asked the circus to put measures in place to prevent this in the future.”

ADI response: Weather conditions during the periods of our investigation were not so adverse as to prevent most of the circus’ animals from being given access to the outdoors. With no health issues indicated, there was therefore no reason for the camel, ankole, zebras, and goats to remain cramped and confined for periods inside the dingy barn while the other animals were allowed outside.

The UK’s temporary regulations governing the use of wild animals in circuses in England stipulate that licensed animals must have “the opportunity for physical exercise for a minimum of six hours in any 24 hour period” and that “Reasonable effort must be made to allow grazing animals an opportunity to graze on a daily basis.” During our first 16-hour observation, zebras Watusi and Zumba, Kashmir the camel, and Onkuli the ankole (who died on tour a few months later) never left the barn. During the 13-day ADI observation in 2016, Kashmir was confined to his pen for 6 days and the two goats spent the entire time in their tiny 2.6 square metre pen, their only respite being when their pen was cleaned and they were tied up in the main area of the barn for 6 hours.

Enclosures less than minimum requirements

Defra statement: “The zebra enclosure identified in your March and November 2015 observations was judged as adequate at the time by the inspector during his February 2015 inspection as both zebra were still then immature in size. In his following inspection of March 2016 both zebra had been moved to two separate loose boxes which the inspector judged to be of adequate size for the animals at their present stage of development.”

ADI response: The minimum indoor enclosure size for two zebras (age not stipulated) is 20 square metres. During two of the ADI visits, zebras Watsui and Sumba were confined to a pen just 7.8 square metres in size – inadequate for any wild animal, regardless of age.

Defra statement: “The camel and ankole enclosure identified in your March 2015 observation as being 17.65 sq. metres (as opposed to the recommended 20 sq. metres for two ungulates) was judged as adequate at the time by the inspector during his February 2015 inspection as the two animals also had access to an adjacent hard standing area. The ankole died in June 2015 so the enclosure space now exceeds the recommended space (15 sq. metres) for one ungulate.”

ADI response: The space provided fell short of the required minimum size, which itself ADI considers to be inadequate for such large wild animals. In addition to the confined space, camel Kashmir and ankole Onkuli were tethered for at least 16 hours of the day, preventing them from being able to turn around comfortably.

Access to water

Defra statement: “The inspector has confirmed that all licensed animals had access to water at the time of both of his inspections.”

ADI response: Although water may have been provided during the two inspections, our investigation showed that the equines did not have access to water when indoors despite the Code of Practice stating that “It is essential that all horses have continuous access to a clean supply of fresh water. When this is impractical, adequate clean water should be made available to them on a frequent and regular basis”. Horses can require anything from 20-70 litres of water daily.


Defra statement: “The circus has confirmed that the individual filmed spitting at the camel was a member of staff at the circus. Although there is no evidence that the camel was ‘tormented’ – as you allege – by his actions, Defra still regards this behaviour as unacceptable.”

ADI response: To torment is to “annoy or provoke in an unkind way”, we therefore consider that Kashmir the camel – taunted and spat at while tethered, unable to escape – was indeed tormented. We welcome, however, the acknowledgement by Defra that such behaviour is unacceptable.

Health of the animals

Defra statement: “The licensed animals, in the recent unannounced inspection, were found to be in good health. Although not covered by the licensing system, the inspector also confirmed that he had no concerns about the condition of the circus’ domestic animals”.

ADI response: Although the animals may appear to be in good health, travelling circuses, by their very nature, are unable to provide animals with adequate facilities to keep them physically or psychologically healthy. Welfare, and the wellbeing of the animals, is always compromised. As our investigation revealed, bullying at Peter Jolly’s is rife, as horses, ponies, and donkeys vie for limited space. Individuals were filmed biting and kicking one another as tempers flare and tethers become tangled.

The outcome

In response to ADI’s findings:

  • Peter Jolly’s Circus has agreed to provide a new covered outdoor area attached to the barn and additional shelter in one of the fields to allow for outdoor access during poor weather
  • The Circus will supervise the member of staff who spat at the camel at all times when working with the licensed wild animals
  • Defra has sent the circus a copy of the Welfare Code of Practice for Equines, “with especial attention being drawn to the sections on tethering”

This sounds very much like business as usual, with the animals continuing to suffer. The environment these animals, both wild and domestic, are forced to endure is no life for an a sentient animal of any species. The current licensing scheme is failing to protect the welfare of wild animals, and there are no regulations to protect domestic animals.

Please help stop circus suffering

  • Urge your MP to press the government for a timetable on introducing the ban on wild animals in circuses – promised over 4 years ago.
  • In Wales contact your AM and urge them to ask the government for a timetable on their promised ban.
  • Scotland has promised a bill in May 2017 – let your MSP know you support it.
  • Avoid circuses that have animal acts, and encourage your friends, family, and colleagues to do the same.
  • Speak out when an animal circus comes to town – email us for leaflets and posters.
  • Donate today and help us campaign for an end to the suffering of animals in circuses.

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