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PO Box 439 AVALON NSW 2107
(61) (2) 9973 1728
Wild Animals in Circuses      


Wild Animals in Circuses

Chained elephantHumane Society International opposes the use of wild animals in circuses and other travelling acts. We believe such acts are cruel and inhumane, exploit animals solely for human entertainment and can present serious human health and safety risks.

Wild animals used in circuses are routinely subjected to months on the road confined to small, barren cages, often in extreme temperatures. This, of course, does not allow the animals to exhibit any natural or instinctual behaviour. After the show the animals are locked back in their small cages, barely able to turn around, and shipped to the next town.

Despite claims to the contrary, trainers frequently use excessive and abusive training methods to establish and maintain the control necessary to make animals perform tricks. Although positive reinforcement is indeed part of a trainer' s repertoire, it is by no means his/her only tool, and is not enough to guarantee control of a four-ton elephant in the circus ring.

Inappropriate messages are also put forward by forcing wild animals to perform circus tricks. Animal circuses may teach people, especially children, that it is acceptable to exploit wild animals for human entertainment. Such exploitation is especially distressing when circuses use large wild animals and exotic species, such as elephants, lions, tigers and bears, which may be endangered or threatened.

The frivolous and degrading use of these animals is in direct opposition to the message that as stewards of wild animals, humans should protect natural ecosystems, enhance depleted species and ensure humane treatment of animals.

Regardless of training, the wild animals used in circuses can behave unpredictably and HSI have significant concerns that circuses using wild animals can also present a threat to human safety.


In Australia, legal protection for animals in circuses is inadequate and varies between State and Territory legislation. There is a Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals in Circuses; however compliance with this code is mandatory only in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. It is considered a guide but is not legally enforceable in Victoria, Northern Territory and Western Australia. Regardless, the Code of Practice does not ensure an adequate environment for these animals because of the very nature of circuses. State and Territory Animal Welfare legislation, setting out minimum standards for handling, care treatment and transport of animals, provides the only other defence.

In 1992 the Australian Capital Territory passed laws that made keeping of animals in circuses a criminal offence. In addition to this, some municipal councils in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia have prohibited circuses that use wild animals from operating within their jurisdictions. In Queensland, legislation prevents local governments from restricting business activity within their jurisdictions. However, the City of Townsville banned a circus from returning to their area based on animal welfare reasons.


There are a number of ways you can assist us with this campaign.

  • Contact HSI if there is a circus in your local area.
  • Write to your local councillors to explain why allowing circuses with animals should not be tolerated. (We will send you the name and address details of your local councillors and details on what you may like to include in your letter to them).
  • Circulate a petition in your local area to gain support of other concerned citizens. (We will send a petition in the package of information to you.)
  • Write a letter to your local and leading newspapers on the issue.


Once you have notified us of a Circus in your area, we will write a letter to your Council explaining why we feel it is inappropriate to have wild animals in circuses. HSI has found that many Councils, when approached on this issue, do ban these circuses, as most were previously unaware of the exploitation and cruelty involved.

Tips on Drafting a Letter to the Editor about Circuses. Click here.


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