The introduction of the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019 was a huge success for animal rights groups in the UK, like Freedom for Animals, who have spent decades campaigning against the cruel exploitation of animals for entertainment. Thanks to this act and the public support for it, the likes of elephants, lions, and tigers are no longer used in UK circus performances.

However, UK circuses are not free of animals, not free of exploitation, and not free from scrutiny, because it is still permitted to use domestic animals in the circus. Freedom for Animals marks 5 years of the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019 with an investigation into how effective it has been, and where there are opportunities to extend its benefits to those animals not covered by its protections, the Lives Left Behind.

Throughout 2023 and 2024 we monitored the UKs remaining animal circuses and gathered evidence on their performances and practices, as well as the lives of the individuals travelling with them. Here’s what we found:

  • Animals used across the five circuses investigated included horses and ponies, donkeys and mules, pigeons and doves, llamas, chickens, geese, dogs, cats, and goats.

  • Circuses are putting performances ahead of animals’ wellbeing - we observed evidence of stress, fear, and even injury.

  • Animal circuses in the UK in 2023 were found to be operating with frequent and often lengthy travel schedules. Across the five circuses monitored they moved an average of 54 miles every 9 days.

  • The licensing scheme intended to provide welfare protection for performing animals simply does not work for travelling shows. Most of the licence conditions that apply to circuses cannot be assessed by inspectors visiting one show a year, or a circus’s winter quarters. And if welfare risks need to be reported, how are visitors to know to which local authority to report a travelling animal show?

  • Most circuses did not adhere to all of the general conditions of their performing animals licence, if indeed they have one.

  • One circus was found to be travelling with a camel - an animal protected by the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019 - and what’s more shocking, this was happening with the full knowledge and consent of the licensing authority!

  • Another circus has been found to be selling ‘pet animals’ from their touring sites.

  • Many animals that are explicitly protected by the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019, due to the demonstrable poor welfare that results from travel and performance, are not protected from other types of travel and performance, including camel and reindeer parades at Christmas, and mobile zoos.

Our research clearly shows that the life of a circus animal is a difficult one, and domestic animals deserve the same protections as wild animals. Our conclusions include recommendations to government at all levels to make changes to protect ALL animals from circuses.

How you can help:

Read the report above to find out more, and share with friends and family

Sign the petition to get the government to ban ALL animals from circuses 

Support our mission for freedom for all animals


Investigation published June 2024.