Circuses and Animal Shows

Despite advances in science and our improved knowledge of animals’ natural behavior and their welfare needs, animals continue to be exploited to perform unnatural acts for human amusement.

While zoos and other captive wildlife attractions proclaim themselves to be institutions of education and conservation, many of them include animal shows to add variety and to attract visitors. Weak wildlife law enforcement or lack of animal welfare legislation in many countries also allows an almost limitless variety of wild animal shows and exhibits for tourists.

What is it?

Animals are forced to perform tricks in circus-style shows. Animals are trained to perform unnatural acts and stunts that do not reflect their natural behavior. Some examples notified to us are: lions and tigers jumping through hoops of fire, elephants walking on their hind legs or chimpanzees riding bicycles. These unnatural acts have a detrimental effect on the animal’s welfare.

This video shows an elephant during a ‘football’ show in Thailand – watch what happens when the elephant clearly doesn’t do what it was meant to. You can read more about this particular issue here.

What you should know

Performance Training

  • Documented research and investigations have revealed that animals are often trained using manipulation and negative reinforcement techniques.
  • Training methods include food deprivation, beatings, drugging, and surgically removing or impairing their teeth and/or claws.

No glamour lifestyle for performers

  • Many wild animals used for performing suffer from extreme confinement and inappropriate social groupings. Outside of show times, these performing animals are often kept individually, away from public view, often in appalling conditions – chained and confined in cages that are too small, irregularly cleaned and without appropriate food and fresh water.
  • The animals can be in these appalling conditions for up to 23 hours a day as their show slots are rarely more than 30 minutes.
  • Stereotypical (repeated and abnormal) behaviour in a wide range of species can be observed in these enclosures.  For example, elephants are seen constantly rocking their heads. (RIGHT-tourism on Stereotypic Behaviours)

Education value?

  • There is no education or conservation value from watching wild animals performing unnatural acts. Such activities only teach the audience that animals can be demeaned and exploited for human entertainment. Making animals perform tricks does not foster an accurate understanding of their natural behaviours.
  • Using animals in shows can also pose a risk to the public.  Animals in such close proximity to the audience could attack at any time, and a number of injuries to trainers and audience members are reported each year. The close proximity of the audience to these animals increases the risk of zoonotic diseases that can easily spread in such conditions.
  • Wildlife is also used for begging or tips from tourists in exchange for a photo. Busy tourist sites, beaches, restaurants and bars are some of the commonly targeted areas. Tourists may be asked to purchase food from the handler to feed to their animals, or pay to have a photo taken.

Tourists at risk

  • Close contact with wild animals can cause serious illnesses. Salmonella from reptiles and birds, hepatitis and monkey pox from primates and mycobacterium sp. from dolphins are just some of the diseases that can be passed on to humans through close contact with wild animals. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immunity are most at risk.
  •  Accidents involving people and captive wild animals are surprisingly common worldwide. Wild animals are unpredictable and may become aggressive and cause injury. There have been several cases of larger animals, such as elephant and tigers, causing serious injuries and even killing people during photographic sessions.

What you can do

  • Do not pay to watch animal shows or visit places that have animal performances.
  • Observe wildlife in the wild in their natural habitat where the experience can be more rewarding using a responsible travel operator.

Where does this occur?

Animal performances take place all over the world, however, some countries and regions are particularly affected- these include Thailand, Spain, Africa, Eastern Europe, and South East Asia.

Links to organisations for further information

This article was contributed by the Captive Animal Protection Society