Model Laws

Prohibiting the Exploitation of Animals for Entertainment by Circuses


Read Commentary



Sec. 1. Purpose

The use of animals in circuses as a form of amusement, entertainment or display is detrimental to the safety of the public, including children and trainers. Wild animals pose a significant danger to audience members, trainers, and the public at large. Travel or confinement impairs the animals' physical, psychological, and social needs, while close confinement, lack of exercise, pressure to perform, and other physical requirements of performing render the animals unable to express natural behaviors and socialize appropriately. In addition, the training techniques, devices, or agents used to make the animals perform are many times abusive, cruel, and/or stressful, causing suffering to the animals and creating a greater threat to the public. Finally, the circus is not an adequate educational forum for children.


Sec. 2. Definitions

For the purposes of this act:

  • "Animals": all vertebrate animals including but not limited to, elephants, big cats, lions, bears, primates, tigers, camels, monkeys, leopards, horses, and dogs.
  • "Ankus": also known as a bullhook, is a wooden stick with a sharp, pointed hook at the end, used to control animal behavior.
  • "Display": Circus performance, or any other exhibition or act (roadside zoos) where an animal participates in performances for the amusement or entertainment of an audience. Does not prohibit the display of such animals for strictly educational purposes by non-profit groups, institutions or individuals.


Sec. 3. Regulation

(a) The advertisement of animals used in displays for amusement or entertainment purposes in the city, town, municipality, etc. is prohibited.


(b) The display of animals in an act that engages the animal in unnatural behavior, an act in which the animal is wrestled, fought, mentally or physically harassed, or displayed in a manner that abuses the animal or causes the animal mental or physical stress is prohibited.



Sec. 4. Penalties

Violators will be fined up to ___ for each charge of animal abuse and/or a prison sentence up to ___, depending on the severity of the abuse. A circus found to be in violation of these provisions will have its permit to perform revoked and will be subject to fines of up to ____ for each day it .



Additional Commentary

Several U.S. cities have an outright ban on animal acts and dozens of cities have ordinances restricting or prohibiting specific acts. In addition, Finland, Israel, Sweden, Singapore (effective 2002), and Canada (19 ordinances in various provinces and cities) prohibit the use of animals in circuses. These prohibitions protect the safety of the public, as well as the animals. Wild animals are often unpredictable, uncontrollable, and impulsive. Their erratic behavior poses a serious danger to adults and children viewing the performance, as well as to animal trainers.


Numerous incidents of animals escaping from circuses, rebelling against trainers and workers, and injuring the public occur every year around the world. Since 1990 these incidents have resulted in 43 human deaths, more than 140 human injuries, and the killing of 69 big cats. These wild animals are responding to the harsh conditions and stressful environment of the circus. Elephants in circuses are rebelling in attempts to escape their sad existences. In 1994, officer Blayne Doyle, who had to shoot 47 rounds into Janet, an elephant who charged out of the Great American Circus arena, lamented: "I think these elephants are trying to tell us that zoos and circuses are not what God created them for. But we have not been listening."


The public is endangered through the use of wild animals in displays because of their unpredictable and uncontrollable behavior. The circus is not a safe arena for children because the animals may attack trainers and audience members as a form of rebellion. Animals may rebel against their trainers and resist performing the strenuous movements forced upon them resulting in life threatening injuries and mutilation. Captive wild animals can pose a significant danger to themselves and the public at large. They are gunned down in the streets and cities, jeopardizing the lives of everyone involved, including participants in the chase, as well as innocent bystanders. Circus animals may be treated disrespectfully and carelessly, thus endangering the lives of everyone they encounter. Some examples include:


On April 10, 2000 in São Paulo, Brazil five lions used in a circus devoured a 6-year-old boy after one dragged him away from his father and into the cage inside a tent full of spectators. Police wounded two people with bullet fragments as they sprayed the top of the cage with machine-gun fire to scare the lions off the boy's body. Four lions were killed in that incident.


In Wichita, Kansas in January 1999 a 5-month-old tiger cub bit the throat of a 5-year-old child. The tiger belonged to Safari Zoological Park, a roadside zoo that brings animals to schools, festivals, and store promotions. The tiger was killed the next day.


On March 10, 2001 in Kamarkundu, India a tiger suddenly mauled a worker at the Olympic Circus while the animal was being forced to jump through a fireball soon after the show began. The circus worker received 15 stitches on his head, neck, and jaws.


In West Bengal, India in December 2000 a tiger trainer was mauled to death by three tigers during an act that required nine tigers to jump over her and then pass through a ring. A tiger handler had to be airlifted to the hospital after being attacked by a tiger at a roadside zoo in Pearland, Texas in April 1999. The tiger was killed.


In February 1998 in Lincolnton, North Carolina a leopard nearly killed his trainer after attacking her at a Royal Palace Circus performance. The trainer suffered injuries requiring reconstructive surgery and hospitalization for a week.


On March 14, 2000 in Poland an escaped tiger traveling with a circus attacked a veterinarian before being gunned down by police after a two-hour chase through the streets of Warsaw. A bullet meant for the tiger also killed the veterinarian.


In Racine, Minn. on July 27, 2001 a 2-year-old, 400-pound white Siberian tiger was destroyed for rabies tests after he bit a 7-year-old girl. The tiger had escaped from a cage at a roadside zoo and attacked the girl, inflicting two puncture wounds that became infected. The tiger was stuffed and mounted.


Animals used in circuses, and other displays, do not serve as accurate educational tools for children. These displays do not educate the public on the natural habitat, life-style, or behavior, but rather provide an erroneous perception of the animals. The circus may portray the animals as approachable and playful, however these wild animals are often dangerous, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Thus, children may draw near or attempt to pet the animals under the often mistaken belief that it is safe.


Circus animals may act out and rebel against the often harsh treatment and cruel training techniques forced upon them and, there by, jeopardize human lives. Animals in circuses and other displays, are often forced to perform unnatural and unsafe acts. Training for these performances often requires the use of whips, tight collars, electric prods and other shocking devices, ankuses, sticks, axe handles, baseball bats, metal pipes, and other tools. These weapons are often used to hit and beat restrained animals in order to break their spirits and teach them to be submissive. Muzzles may be used on bears and other animals in order to keep them subdued and discourage them from protecting themselves. Muzzles may also interfere with vision and respiration. In addition, firearms may be used if these wild animals rebel against their trainer's dominant tactics.


Because of the enormous size and strength of elephants, many trainers rely on chains and fear to make them obey. Some elephants spend almost their whole lives in chains. The well-known Dumbo lived 20 years in "martingales", chains that ran from his tusks to his feet. In the wild, the life expectancy of elephants is the same as ours. In the circus, many elephants die prematurely of disease and the stress of confinement.


An ankus, or bullhook, is commonly used on elephants in circuses; it is embedded into the most sensitive areas of an elephant, such as around the feet, behind the ears, under the chin, inside the mouth and other locations around the face, and is sometimes used to smash animals across the face. Circuses often mislead the public with false claims that the bullhook is only used to guide or cue an elephant, since the elephant is so obedient and submissive to the trainer. When performing in the circus ring, an elephant responds to moderate pressure from the bullhook, as well as verbal commands. However, the elephant has often been conditioned through violent training sessions to obey the trainer in the ring or face severe punishment later. Moments before entering the ring, while out of view of the public, trainers may give the elephants a few painful whacks as a reminder of their dominance and ensure that the elephants perform the specified tricks on command.


Elephants are often forced to perform unnatural movements and difficult tricks in the circus placing a great deal of stress on their muscles and joints. An elephant would not usually perform these abnormal and involuntary movements on command, over and over, hundreds of times a year without the constant threat of punishment. In the wild, an adult elephant lies down in slow, gradual movements about once or twice a day. A typical circus act requires that they lie down and rise very quickly several times in a single show.


The living conditions of circus animals are many times inadequate. The smaller and poorer the circus, the more limited the animals' access may be to water, food, and veterinary care. But whatever the size of a circus, the animals often suffer. Animals often live in cramped spaces, tigers and lions usually live and travel in cages 4 feet by 6 feet by 5 feet. Elephants are often chained by their front legs, hind legs or both during training sessions, transport and in between shows. Inadequate exercise and extended periods of standing in wet, unsanitary conditions may lead to foot problems such as foot rot, cracked nails, and infected cuticles.


Baby elephants are born in breeding compounds and are often prematurely removed from their mothers for training. While the calves are separated, ropes may be tied to their front and back legs and can cause rope burns as they struggle against the restraints. Bears may have their noses broken while being trained or have their paws burned to force them to stand on their hind legs. The cruel training techniques and unnatural movements can cause physical disorders and illness in the animals.


As a result of confinement, elephants often sway back and forth in their chains and tigers pace their cages. These repetitive behaviors can be symptomatic of severe psychological distress. Depression and other mental states in the animals are often a result of constant confinement and inability to exhibit natural instincts and tendencies. The harsh treatment and conditions can trigger erratic behavior in the circus animals leading to human deaths and injuries.


Prohibiting the advertisement and display of animals would eliminate a market for these animals, end their suffering and save human lives. However, outlawing the use of animals in circus acts would not threaten the industry as many circuses thrive without the use of animals. A variety of circuses successfully perform without the use of animals, some examples are:


American Crown Circus

Bindlestiff Family Circus

Circo Fantastico

Circus Millennia

Circus Minimus

Circus Oz

Cirque Plume

Cloud Seeding Circus

Cirque Éos

Cirque du San Jose

Cirque du Soleil

Cirque Éloize

Cirque Ingénieux

Cirque NuAge

Earth Circus

Fern Street Circus

Flying Fruit Fly Circus

Flying High Circus

Gregangelo & Velocity Circus Troupe

Hiccup Circus

Hawaii's Volcano Circus

Lazer Vaudeville

Les Colporteurs

Make a Circus

Mexican International Circus

Moscow State Circus

The New Pickle Family Circus

The New Shanghai Circus

Zamperla Thrill Circus


The purpose of the circus is to entertain audiences in a traveling show. Eliminating the use of animals does not alter the objective of the circus in any way.




Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Position Statements, Animals in Entertainment.


In Defense of Animals.


The Humane Society of the United States.


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.


Performing Animal Welfare Society.


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