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ISPCA launches The Big Stop campaign calling for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses

The Big Stop Campaign Major Success!

The ISPCA warmly welcomes the announcement that Ireland will introduce a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses with effect from 1st January 2018 by way of a Regulation under the Animal Health and Welfare Act. 

We would like to congratulate Minister Michael Creed and his officials for this progressive step for animal welfare in Ireland, which now becomes the 20th EU Member State to introduce a ban or restrictions on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. A total of 42 countries across the world have recognised that the physical and psychological needs of wild animals cannot be met in a travelling circus environment.

ISPCA CEO Dr Andrew Kelly said: “I am delighted that Ireland has announced a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses following many years of campaigning by the ISPCA. Travelling circuses cannot  and will never be able provide a suitable environment for wild animals such as elephants, tigers and lions which have complex physical and psychological welfare needs. Coercing wild animals into doing tricks, which are actually abnormal behaviours for these animals, for human entertainment is outdated and it is right that it is being consigned to the history books where it belongs.


The ISPCA had launched The Big Stop campaign calling for an immediate ban on the use of wild animals in circuses on animal welfare and ethical grounds after it emerged that two Dutch circuses recently travelled to Ireland following a ban introduced by the Netherlands. The ISPCA warned that Ireland risks becoming the dumping ground for wild animal circuses as more and more EU countries introduce bans on this out-dated and cruel practice. The ISPCA also published a report "Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses" (Large file, 12MB) which gives an overview of the animal welfare concerns associated with this out-dated practice. You can find the report, our Factsheet here.

Dutch circuses Belly Wien and Renz Inter had travelled to Ireland as part of a joint enterprise with 65 animals including three Asian elephants, Bactrian camels and a number of equines and bovines. Now banned in the Netherlands, they travelled to Ireland where there are no regulations on the use of animals in circuses. 

The ISPCA maintained that travelling circuses cannot provide a suitable environment for wild animals such as elephants and tigers due to their complex needs. Frequent travelling, loading and unloading, handling, limited space, crowd noise, bright lights and restricted social interaction are well known stressors in wild animals. In addition, forcing wild animals to perform abnormal behaviours for human 'entertainment' is ethically dubious in the 21st century. 

The ISPCA maintained that the complex animal welfare needs of wild animals such as elephants, tigers, lions, camels, zebra, giraffes and sea lions, could not be met in a travelling circus environment. The charity called on the new Government to follow in the footsteps of dozens of other countries and ban the practice. 

ISPCA CEO Dr. Andrew Kelly said, "Despite many countries having banned the use of wild animals in circuses on animal welfare or ethical grounds, Ireland still allows this out-date practice to continue. Travelling circuses are no place for wild animals as they simply cannot provide a suitable environment for these animals. Transported in cramped and barren 'beast-wagons' around the country, moving every few days and then forcing them to perform unnatural behaviours for human 'entertainment' should no longer be permissable in the 21st century. In recent years, circuses in Ireland have toured with elephants, sea lions, tigers, lions, camels and other wild animals, whose needs cannot be adequately catered for. England and Wales are committed to a ban and in Scotland 98% supported a ban in a recent public consultation. The ISPCA believes it is time for Ireland to consign this out-dated practiceto the history books and introduce a complete ban without any further delay."

The ISPCA was particularly concerned that circuses Belly Wien and Renz International from the Netherlands were touring Ireland with three Asian elephants, which are one of the species least suited to travelling circus life. Elephants are large, social, highly intelligent mammals. Elephants are notoriously difficult to care for in captivity and scientific research carried out in the UK and the rest of Europe has found significant welfare problems for elephants in zoos. A report funded by the UK government in 2008 found that "there was a welfare concern for every elephant in the UK." In circuses, which cannot even provide the minimum standards of zoos as required under the EU Zoos Directive, the welfare problems for elephants are even more pronounced. Often chained by the ankle for up to 95% of the time and forced to perform unnatural behaviours during as many as three performances every day, circuses are no place for this enigmatic species. In addition, the use of cruel bull hooks to control the animals using intense pain may be an offense under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 as it causes unnecessary suffering. 

The use of wild animals in circuses is also a public health and safety issue. There was controversy the last time a circus toured with elephants. In 2012, one of the elephants used by the Courtney's Circus escaped and ran out of control down a busy car park in Cork. Onlookers said it was a miracle that no-one was seriously harmed. It could only be brought under control by the use of cruel bull hooks. The following week one of the elephant's trainers was hospitalise when one of the same elephant fell on top of him, causing serious crush injuries. Unauthorised parades of the animals were also conducted by the circus, putting the public and road users at risk. 

In 2014, an IPSOS/MRBI Omnipoll commissioned by the ISPCA and the Born Free Foundation confirmed that 67% of people believed that the welfare needs of wild animals could not be met in travelling circuses. 

Many people may find it hard to believe that using elephants, tigers and other wild animals in circuses is still legal. Dozens of countries around the world have already taken the positive step of banning the use of some or all animals in circuses. These include Bolivia, Columbia, Greece, Malta and the Netherlands, amongst others, but Ireland is yet to take action. In Ireland, twelve local authorities have introduced bans on the use of council land by circuses using some or all animals. But unless a full ban is introduced which prevents the use of wild animals in circuses altogether, the businesses continue to tour and the animals continue to live in inadequate conditions; with high potential for suffering. 

The ISPCA asked the Irish public to Join Our Fight to #EndCruelty to all animals and sign our Big Stop petition to support a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. Thanks to each and every one of 27,625 of you who supported the ISPCA by signing the petition. Thank you!  Together we made a difference.

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