Stop Circus Suffering

Circus inspection reports and licence applications published by Defra

ADI has been calling on the Coalition Government to be more open and transparent concerning the licensing of circuses with wild animals since plans for the unworkable scheme was first introduced.

Mondao camels

ADI has been calling on the Coalition Government to be more open and transparent concerning the licensing of circuses with wild animals since plans for the unworkable scheme was first introduced.

ADI has time and again highlighted how circus regulations are doomed to failure. A travelling circus cannot 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 so cannot be addressed by standards.

  • Read our Out of Control report here

ADI has used the Freedom of Information Act and parliamentary questions to obtain information that should have been publicly available but Defra have remained silent. Until now.

On 23 May 2013, the long overdue release of inspection reports and licence applications for the only two circuses performing with wild animals in Britain, Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus, were published by Defra.

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. Applications for both circuses showed that details were omitted or breaches identified, resulting in additional administrative time and expense.

The inspection reports themselves raise 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

In March 2013, we revealed how Circus Mondao were touring with wild animals ahead of being granted a licence. At the time Defra refused to comment on the matter, but the inspection report reveals that they were aware that the circus was touring without a licence, as it states in the report that “Performances will start on 13th February but the exotic animals will not be in the performance or on display”.

In the inspection report it states how:

Animal welfare

  • one of the camels had “mange-like lesions on both hind legs”, for which medication was given
  • one or both camels appear to be infertile (they have lived together for five years and have never bred), but this was not viewed as a welfare problem
  • the camels were “often reluctant to go out” into a large field they had been given access to at times, due to the “inclement” weather. The weather also meant access to the field was sometimes restricted
  • because the reindeer are castrated, they do not naturally shed their antlers. As they become “brittle and deformed” the standard practice is to treat them with hormone injections to encourage them to shed. The injections, however,“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 would in future be separated when the injections are administered and not reintroduced until the antlers have dropped.
  • 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, meeting the licensing requirements
  • the contingency plan regarding transport was discussed and since the inspection a new document submitted

Fulfilling licensing requirements

Read the inspection report here
Read the circus licence application here

Peter Jolly’s Circus

During the inspection of the winter quarters of the Peter Jolly’s Circus, the following breaches were identified: details of the tour itinerary had not been provided and welfare risk assessments did not contain the necessary information. Following the inspection the Defra Licensing Panel wrote in a letter 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 between the Panel and the inspector, the Panel’s remaining concern related to the circus’ “provisions for transport and display” which had not been assessed since the regulations came into force. Incredibly it was agreed by the Panel that the cost for undertaking the additional visit for the inspector to assess these be borne by Defra, not the circus. The inspector responded by stating that it would not be possible to assess the training aspect 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 at odds with the findings of our studies over the past 20 years, during which ADI has filmed and photographed the day-to-day treatment of animals in travelling circuses, the animal care practices, and studied the physical and psychological effects of performing.

One of the other flaws of the licensing system was highlighted by the inspector after the Panel had stated the minimum sizes of the raccoon and snake enclosures were not provided with the circus’ 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.

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 – fox, raccoon, snakes and reindeer – is apparently unknown
  • in the retirement plan for the camel, it states “Camels are pretty stoic about their personal conditions and can survive with very little or a very lot, they do not make decisions about their requirements or 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”. To suggest that the camel does not desire anything more than sustenance demonstrates a failure to acknowledge other natural behaviors seen in camels. In the wild camels can travel up to 30 miles a day. Social groups consist of a dominant male and a harem of females as well as bands of “bachelor” males. When faced with a challenger, males embark on an “elaborate and dramatic ritual”, including teeth grinding, tail smacking and side-by-side pacing.(1)
  • in the retirement plan for the fox, it states 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…..Peter managed this with one of the foxes and it was successfully released, however Sam refused to leave Peter and no matter how hard Peter tried the fox would not leave him” – 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, it states how the animal has “adapted well within the circus environment and has embraced the hustle bustle of circus life”. Left to their own devices in the wild, raccoons are known for their dexterity and for “washing” their food by rubbing, dunking and manipulating food, related to catching aquatic prey. As an innate behaviour, it has been noted that “displacement “feeling” actions by captive animals are common even in the absence of water” (2)

Read the inspection report here
Read the circus licence application here

Take action!

  • Find out how you can actively get involved with the campaign here
  • Make a donation and help us end circus cruelty
  • Read more about our Stop Circus Suffering campaign in the UK

1. Burnie, D (Ed) Animal, (2001) Dorling Kindersley, London, UK
2. Macdonald, D (Ed) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals, (2002), Oxford University

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