Animals in Circuses:
Bans and Regulations

February 19, 2021Lu Shegay


Every person going back to their childhood memories could remember that they were taken to zoos, circuses, and aquariums. Seeing wild animals either just in cages or in shows for kids is always fascinating and they learn more about animals in a way. A lot of zoos and aquariums claim that keeping animals in captivity is beneficial to conserve the species, however, exploiting animals for entertainment purposes certainly has a detrimental effect on lots of animals that are very intelligent and were proven to experience stress and suffering in such kind of activities.

Animals’ Life in Circuses

It is important to note that wild animals, elephants, lions, seals, tigers, and others, do not naturally jump, or stand on their heads - they do it and lots of other tricks because they are forced to and generally afraid of consequences in case if they don’t perform. During the training, animals are abused by trainers with tight collars, electric prods, bullhooks, and other tools that inflict pain on animals. Oftentimes, animals are beaten and cruelly treated, however, the government usually does not monitor the training itself, and handlers do not “make mistakes” with cruel treatment in public, so during the show, everything may seem fine to visitors.

Animals are kept in constant confinement traveling all year long. During transit, animals are put in trailers where they are incapable of moving fully, do not have access to food, water, veterinary care. For instance, elephants are chained, wild cats are confined in dirty cages where they eat, sleep, and urinate in the same place.

Keeping animals in captivity and using them for entertainment can cause stress and aggression. A lot of wild animals that are used in circuses tend to live in family groups in the wild. Apart from having unnatural surroundings of other incompatible animals and an unnatural environment - being cramped in four walls - they are treated with violence and intimidation that lead to animals’ stress. It does not only harm animals themselves but also impacts public safety because some animals are driven insane and injure or kill people.

Because circuses limit animals’ natural instincts, it causes extreme stress, and there were a lot of cases where animals tried to escape, sought freedom and space. Small enclosures contradict the natural behavior of wild animals, especially given the fact that they used to walk long distances in the wild. Moreover, animals, elephants, in particular, can have tuberculosis while used in circuses because of being brought to close proximity to humans that could be infected. In the latest events, after the hit of the pandemic COVID-19, it becomes even more dangerous to hold such events with group gatherings where a lot of people can infect animals, even if all precautions are taken into consideration.

"The Best / The Worst" by tvdflickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Bans and Regulations on Circuses

A lot of countries around the world already prohibited or limited the use of animals in circuses.

In the United States, there are currently 102 partial or full bans in a total of 33 states. These states include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin. (Read more about the regulation of circuses in the United States here).

Similarly, Canada enacted local bans on using animals in circuses in its 33 municipal jurisdictions, including Vancouver. (Find more laws of Canada here).


The vast majority of European countries have enacted nationwide or local bans on using wild animals, most wild animals, certain wild animals, wild-caught, or wild-born animals.

The recent ban was enacted by France to prohibit involving animals in traveling circuses. The ban does not apply to permanent shows and zoos.

Other European countries that have banned animals in circuses include Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine. Wales is currently developing its ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.

"Circus Krone, Germany 2011" by dirkjanranzijn is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0


Circuses are famous across the globe and a lot of Asian countries exploit animals in circuses and other types of industries. Some countries, however, moved to ban the use of animals or certain species of animals in circuses.

For instance, in 2013, India banned using elephants in circuses. Now the country has a nationwide ban on using all wild animals in circuses.

Similarly, in Iran, the ban on using all wild animals in circuses was issued and is effective in all states within the country. These measures were taken after a successful campaign “No to Circus!” that was launched by Animal Rights Watch in 2014.

In 2002, Singapore banned circuses that involved elephants, tigers, and other wild animals. The local Agri-food and Veterinary Authority explained it by the arisen public concern on animal welfare and a big number of reports on cruel treatment of animals by circus owners and handlers.

Taiwan in 2007 the amendment to its Wildlife Conservation Law to remove wild animals in circuses within its jurisdiction. Legislators stated that it is possible to hold circus shows without involving animals. The amendment was sponsored by DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin and 35 other lawmakers.

Learn more about other continents and get detailed information on bans here.


Circuses that involve animals are not educational and not aimed at the conservation of animals. Rather, it is one of the types of cruelty to wild animals, it does not demonstrate an appreciation of animals. Also, circuses do not conserve wild animals and those animals who are used in captive breeding programs mostly are not released into the wild.

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