Not long after I moved to France I was driving to our local supermarket when I saw a camel tied to a lamppost. I did a double take. After all, camels aren’t native to the Limousin. There were other animals in the vicinity too, llamas, goats and donkeys, and a shabby band of trailers and caravans. The circus was in town. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen wild animals in circus troupes in France. Probably more than fifteen years ago, during a campervan tour of the south of France, I was horrified at the sight of a live lion in a cage on the back of a trailer being driven around the roads of a small dusty town, presumably to drum up business. I thought that perhaps things might have moved on over the years, but obviously not.
Do other countries ban circuses with wild animals?
In the UK, only two circuses have wild animal licences: Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus. Between them they have nineteen wild animals. Under the UK’s Animal Welfare Act such animals are given a level of protection and must be registered and licensed. The UK’s principal animal welfare enforcement agency, the RSPCA, opposes the use of wild animals for public entertainment. In May 2019, the Metro newspaper reported that the government planned to introduce a bill banning wild animals from circuses in 2020. Scotland already has a ban in place and Wales has recently announced that it plans to follow suit.
What’s the situation worldwide?
Twenty-six countries already ban the use of wild animals in circuses: Austria, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Singapore, Israel, Mexico, Estonia, Greece, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Romania, Scotland, Slovakia and Malta. Belgium bans the use of most wild animals. Although many of these countries are EU members, there are also a number from South America. Interestingly, some big names are missing – the United States, for example.
How many circuses in France have wild animals?
In France, circuses proliferate. There’s a great anti-circus website, full of information. It includes a downloadable action pack if you fancy adding your voice to the thousands protesting in France. There are details of all the active circuses in France and all the “interventions” that have taken place over the years. These include things like prosecutions and the removal of animals due to welfare issues. The first entry I checked, Circus Albaran, contained a report that the SPA had removed several animals in 2008. It was not a good start to the research. (Check out the Cirques de France website, if you want more details).
In France, some 157 circuses count wild animals among their troupe. There may not be quite that worrying number as some seem to operate under different names. However, there is a shocking list of the type of species exposed to this exploitation: camels, elephants, hippopotamus (???), primates, lions and tigers, and of course, horses, llamas and smaller beings.
Is there any move to stop this practice?
Like many issues in France, decisions are devolved to local government. Various departments have banned circuses with animals as have some mairies at a more local level. However, despite the opposition of major animal welfare organisations like 30 millions d’amis, there does not seem to be an appetite for change at a national level, in government. There have been some successful prosecutions for issues ranging from keeping animals without permits, to keeping animals in circumstances that don’t conform to their physiological needs. One reptile circus had all of its animals seized in 2017 as it had contravened its certification and breached welfare requirements for the beings.
There is some good news. An increasing number of people oppose the use of wild animals and, indeed, any animals in circuses. The animal welfare group One Voice have been successfully campaigning against circuses since 1999 and have achieved the liberation and release of some large animals. The Brigitte Bardot Foundation takes a similar position. Across the country some 350 town and communes have banned wild animal circuses, most recently in the Pas-de-Calais and Lille. Let’s hope that others soon follow suit.