Circus animals


Ratification Date: 08 Jul 2011

Position statement

The use of animals in circuses is a matter of growing community debate, and can have considerable animal welfare implications. Such use is acceptable only where the welfare of the animals concerned is not compromised and the operators are subject to enforceable and auditable licensing arrangements, underpinned by compliance with national animal welfare standards. Animals for which the standards are not applicable should not be kept or trained for use in circuses.


The following conditions should be included in the standards or licensing arrangements:

  • No new non-domestic animals are to be bred, imported, kept, displayed or used in any way. For those animals already in circuses, provision must be made for them to live out their lives in an appropriate environment retired from circus performance so as to maintain established strong bonds with their human carers. Removing them totally may adversely impact on their welfare, however regular welfare assessments should be performed to determine their status.
  • All circus animals need to perform or be exercised daily e.g. training or other activities.
  • Standards of health, welfare, nutrition, housing, confinement, transport and handling are to be not less than those that are described, legislated, or enforced for similar domestic animals used or kept in our society.
  • Environmental enrichment is an essential consideration for circus animals within the limitations of an itinerant lifestyle.
  • Licences to use or display animals in circuses should be underpinned by a clear, unambiguous, enforceable National Code of Practice or Standard. Alternatively an auditable, accountable and prescribed quality assurance system is required. While veterinary advice may be sought from local veterinarians in emergency situations, circuses should retain veterinarians with relevant expertise, especially in relation to non-domestic animals. These veterinarians should act as professional advisers, be involved in regular health assessments of the animals and be available for telephone consultations with local veterinarians.


Circuses are a traditional form of travelling entertainment with ancient connections, especially in Europe. The first circus in Australia was operating in 1840. Their proponents maintain that animal acts differentiate circuses from cabaret acts. Public support for circuses is still demonstrated by large attendances at their performances. In some jurisdictions (such as the Australian Capital Territory), the use of animals in circuses is no longer permitted under animal welfare legislation.

Circus animals include both domestic species (small and large) and non-domestic species. It is difficult to meet the needs of non-domestic animals - for example, for space, socialisation, exercise and natural habitat - within the constraints of circus life. Most animals are weaned early and hand reared to allow imprinting, thus facilitating handling and training.

These animals are different from zoo animals and are likely to be kept under different conditions. For example, animals that normally socialise well may need to be kept as individuals. Circus animals are exercised during training procedures, so the size of their cages may not be as critical as for zoo animals. Positive re-enforcement training is recommended.

Domestic circus animals present fewer welfare problems than non-domestic animals.

Generations of breeding in confinement and socialisation with humans make the husbandry requirements of domestic animals less difficult to maintain than non-domesticated species. They interact with people and can be more easily exercised and trained.

Date of ratification by AVA Board 8 July 2011