9 out of 10 animals rescued from EU circuses suffer from trauma

No less than 89% of the exotic animals we rescued from a European circus suffered from mental or physical trauma. Almost 8 out of 10 animals even suffered from multiple veterinary or behavioral problems. The results of our new study are loud and clear: forcing wild animals to live and perform in a circus is unacceptable to their welfare and should be banned.

For our new report ‘The Darkness Behind the Spotlight‘, we analyzed the health of 73 former circus animals taken to AAP between 2015 and 2021. The examined animals, coming from circuses in France, Spain and Germany among others, performed in shows for at least one year. Nearly half of the cases displayed external injuries. For example, lions, tigers, and pumas had wounds or were forcefully declawed. Twenty animals suffered from marked to severe veterinary and behavioral issues, often requiring multiple veterinary treatments. Three of them had to be euthanized shortly after arrival at a AAP rescue centre due to their irreversible suffering from severe trauma. However, trauma is not only physical. More than a quarter of the animals showed abnormal behavior impairing their welfare, including inducing injuries to themselves.

Circus animals are prone to malnutrition, behavioral disorders, or physical problems due to the frequent travel of circuses, small and unfit confinements, and forced human-animal interactions. Most EU member states recognize the threat to animals in circuses and have therefore implemented some sort of regulation or ban. The remarkable exception: Germany still has no regulation to end the use and suffering of exotic animals in circuses. More than 150 wild animals are still performing in about 75 circuses throughout Germany, according to a 2021 survey by Eurogroup for Animals. Most (45%) are big cats, like lions and tigers. They will continue to suffer without a ban on exotic animals in circuses. AAP applauds the growing German political debate on this topic, like the one this week in the county of Niedersachsen. AAP: “We hope this debate leads to a national ban, the only way to connect Germany to the rest of the EU and stop circuses from hauling their animals through Europe.”

Dina was sold by the age of two
Behind these numbers are stories of individuals, like Barbary macaque Dina. Born in a small zoo and sold to a circus at the age of 2, where she was forced to perform for seven years. In 2016, their owner agreed to give her up. When Dina arrived at our Dutch rescue centre, she seemed fine. However, Dina was severely overweight due to a bad diet. Also, her canines were very short. They were probably cut on purpose to make her handling easier. Medical checks also showed that she carried multiple viruses and parasites. Still, Dina got in much better shape and lived with a partner of the same species for five years, free of suffering.

Only legislation can stop the problem
While AAP was able to rescue many exotic animals from circuses over the years, hundreds of them are still suffering in circuses. Without tighter regulations, these animals will continue to endure trauma daily. Therefore, AAP wants to use its 50 years of animal rescue expertise to work with decision-makers in Germany and the EU for better animal welfare legislation. The full report is available here: download

Hans had never met a member of his species
Dina lived in the circus with Hans, a Japanese macaque. Hans had infected teeth, inflamed bones, and carried parasites. Our veterinarians nursed him back to health, but he is still figuring out what it means to be a Japanese macaque. Even after living with conspecifics for five years, he still sounds like a Barbary macaque today. Hans shares an enclosure with a female Japanese macaque at the AAP rescue center in Almere, waiting for a good forever home.

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