Circus Vegas


Directors: John and Stephen Courtney
Also goes under the name ‘American 2 Ring Circus’
Also operates Circus Hoffenburg

Information gathered from 2012 investigation (click here to read full report) :

Circus Vegas has had some major changes since the 2006 study. Between at least 2002 and 2006 this circus used elephants on an annual basis and included sea lions in 2003 and a giraffe in 2005. Most notoriously, in 2006 they had a rhino and a hippo on the show, imported from an Italian circus. By 2007 their animal content had been reduced to some ponies and camels and the occasional use of dogs. 2010 saw the circus just have ponies for children’s rides and during 2011 it left Ireland to tour the UK, which it continued to do in 2012 with ponies for rides in the show’s interval.



Animals used in 2010: Believed to have no performing animals this year but do have ponies for rides
Animals used in 2009: Ponies, dogs
Animals used in 2008: Ponies, camels, dogs
Animals used in 2007: ponies, camels
Animals used in 2006: Rhino, hippo, 2 Asian elephants, ponies
Animals used in 2005: Included a 19-month-old giraffe and 4 African elephants
Animals used in 2003: Included sealions


The following are some of the issues relating to this circus:

February 2008:
A Judge made Circus Vegas pay undisclosed damages to a man who claimed he had been head-butted by an elephant at the circus in 2006. The Dublin man said that the elephant had struck him on his forehead with one of his tusks, causing a laceration to his forehead which had to be stitched.
(Irish Times, 14 February 2008)

December 2006:
Circus owner Stephen Courtney and employee Fransisco Daria were convicted of causing a collision in which a mother and daughter were killed in Galway in April 2006.
A trailer had become detached from the circus lorry, driven by Daria, colliding with a car.

Daria was convicted of dangerous driving and Courtney of ‘reckless endangerment’ for allowing the trailer to be attached in a defective manner.
Both were given suspended prison sentences and Courtney was fined €25,000.
(Irish Times, 21 December 2006)

May 2006:
Irish Sunday Mirror claimed that elephants at Circus Vegas were left to roam amongst “broken bottles, nails, metal pipes and jagged rocks” at Belfast’s Harland and Wolff Shipyard.
(Sunday Mirror, 28 May 2006)

May 2006:
A Circus Vegas truck carrying elephants caught fire while travelling on the M50 from Dublin to Belfast. Elephants and circus staff were uninjured.
(Sun, 23 May 2006)

April 2006:
A Freedom for Animals representative was verbally abused and threatened with physical assault while inspecting Circus Vegas in Galway.
(Star Sunday, 9 April 2006)

January 2006:
A lorry transporting a rhino and hippo from Il Florilegio in Italy to Circus Vegas in Ireland was involved in a road traffic accident in west Wales then broke down. It was diverted from Fishguard port to Holyhead.
(Daily Mirror, 20 January 2006)

July 2004:
Six members of the Alliance for Animal Rights were attacked whilst handing out flyers at Circus Vegas in Dublin. An ambulance attended the scene and gardai arrested and charged one circus employee. All six activists were punched, kicked and thrown to the ground, some requiring stitches. A video camera was taken and smashed by the circus.
(Northside People, 20 July 2004)


Ring of Cruelty I (2006 Investigation)

The following comments are taken from Freedom for Animals report ‘An investigation into animal circuses in Ireland in 2006’.
Samantha Lindley is the vet who carried out some of the inspections of circuses with Freedom for Animals investigators.


Two Asian elephants, imported from an Italian circus, are used at this circus.

Samantha Lindley:

“The elephants were of great concern: one, who appeared older, looked a little underweight and stood with her left elbow turned out. This may be nothing, but it may indicate problems with that leg, but of course that cannot be judged without examination.”

She had to be told repeatedly “to perform a particular trick which, when she eventually and reluctantly did it, turned out to be a sort of handstand followed by a headstand – a dangerous and taxing thing to ask such a massive animal to do. Her foot showed a distinct tremor as she prepared to do the trick. The other elephant refused to get on the podium and when she finally complied had to be asked repeatedly to spin. Both elephants had to then sit on the podiums and then sit up in a begging fashion; the older one had considerable difficulty in lowering itself onto the podium.”

After the show the elephants were not chained but were in a grassed enclosure surrounded by an electric fence.

Samantha Lindley: “One was barely reacting at all and the other was head bobbing and weaving as it ate – an advanced manifestation of stereotypic behaviour. Concerns about these particular elephants have been described above. Their reluctance to perform their tricks should be considered with deep concern for the public, the handler and the animals themselves. Their lack of response to the stimulus of the public being so close is also of concern, especially as they had the opportunity of a small enclosure to explore.”


Circus Vegas is the only circus in Ireland with a rhino, named Hulk, imported from a circus in Italy.

Samantha Lindley:

“Rhinos have extremely sensitive olfactory (smell) sense and poor eyesight. The overwhelming noise, flashing lights and competing smells will have been alarming to this animal.”

The living quarters for this animal consisted of a small pen, slightly oval in shape and approximately 8 metres by 8 metres at its widest points. He also had access to his travelling vehicle, which provided shelter. It would be possible for people to reach over or through the barrier of the animal’s pen to touch the rhino, although we did not observe people doing so. There was more supervision of the public by circus staff at this circus than at others we visited.

Samantha Lindley:
“Ideally, a rhino should be given long views of its terrain so that it is not alarmed by sudden movements and sights, but this animal has a small enclosure and the public can get very close.”

“There are no scratching posts provided; these are important for skin and behavioural health. Rhinos require both wet and dry wallows, but this enclosure has neither. These are essential for skin health and are required daily. Ideally rhinos should have the choice of spending time with their own kind or being solitary; this rhino has no choice and its existence is limited to a small pen and a dark lorry, interspersed with the potentially alarming environment of the noisy, bright circus ring and the crowding public.
“In short, it is disgraceful that one of the world’s most endangered species, the white rhino, is travelling in a circus and being shunted back and forth across Europe.”

“The rhino is deprived of basic behavioural and physical needs.”


This animal, named Jeddi, is the only one of his species in an Irish circus, again imported from a circus in Italy.

Samantha Lindley: “Leaving aside for a moment the welfare concerns arising from taking any hippo on tour, the ‘act’ consists of the hippo running in to the ring, standing on a podium and opening its mouth to have food thrown in.”

After the show, “the hippo was mostly, but not completely, submerged in a tank of filthy water, smelling of, and clearly laden with, faeces.” The tank was approximately 5 metres long, 2.5 metres wide, 1 metre high.

A 1997 report into animal circuses by the Office of the Environmental Commissioner of the City of Vienna stated that: “the body of water provided for hippopotami must be deep enough to enable them to completely immerse themselves in. Keeping them in too small or too shallow basins for too long will entail articular injuries.” (‘Guidelines for the keeping of wild animals in circuses’, Office of the Environmental Commissioner of the City of Vienna, 1997).

Vet Samantha Lindley:

“Since it is normal for hippos to defecate in the water, they require an adequate amount and frequent changing and/or high volume filtration of water. The conditions this animal was seen in represent a serious compromise to its welfare and health. Dermatitis, an inflammatory skin condition, which is serious in hippos, can result from this kind of poor management. I could not examine the hippo closely so could not establish whether the animal was suffering from dermatitis, but poorly filtrated water is a recognised cause of the problem. The pool is of a rectangular metal, flat-sided design, but the recommendation for hippos is a sloping sided pool. There was no evidence of any play objects or vertical surfaces for trail marking and, most significantly, this hippo is solitary. The sounds of, and contact with, other hippos is important for fulfilment of normal behavioural needs and this animal is deprived of that most basic commodity: company of its own kind.”


Vet Samantha Lindley:

“The performing ponies were a pathetic sight. Tightly reined, they were unable to look to either side or use neck movement to balance. Standing on their back legs and standing with hooves on each others’ backs is bad practice from a behavioural and physical point of view. One of the ponies was smaller than the rest, had a stilted gait and poor musculature. … This animal should not even have been in the ring as it did not appear to be fit to perform the kinds of tricks required of it.

“On closer examination after the show its skin was covered in lesions, at least down to subcutaneous level, which were white – this may indicate either treatment or disease. Animals under treatment should not perform or be on display so as to give them optimum opportunity to recover.”

“From the smell and sight of obviously wet straw in the pony tent, these ponies were likely to have been housed in the same area since the circus arrived six days previously. Instead of being cleaned out, they are being kept on ‘deep litter’, i.e. more straw is put on top of old. While ‘deep litter’ is a husbandry technique more commonly used in poultry farming, it is not standard or desirable for horses, who would usually be mucked out daily in normal livery yards/stables.

“If this is the regular environment for these animals, it can predispose to foot, skin and respiratory problems. One of the dappled ponies had very forced respirations (breathing). They had no fixed water supplies and the bucket in the pen of the pony with the skin lesions had tipped over, depriving it of water and adding to the dampness of its environment.”

“The ponies should be simple to manage competently; even this husbandry is substandard and poses a risk to the health and welfare of the animals.”

Health and Safety

After the show, the elephants were in a grassed area surrounded by a line of electric fence wire.
Samantha Lindley: “It was not clear as to whether the electric fences [surrounding the elephant and hippo enclosures] were live, but if they were, there were no warning signs to protect the public from an electric shock. Whilst animals will mostly respect electric fencing, they can still walk or run through it when aroused.

“If they were not electrified, then there was nothing protecting the public but a fragile conditioning of the animals to the sight of white tape.”

Samantha Lindley:
“Hippos are notoriously dangerous (they are known as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa) … The ‘barrier’ used to herd the hippo into the ring and presumably stop it escaping, consisted of a wooden gate of approximately one and a half metres by one and a half metres and a podium tipped up against various other bits of circus flotsam. Either side was policed by a couple of staff. None of these measures would stop a hippo walking, let alone charging in the wrong direction.”

“Similar comments apply to the rhino, but one should also bear in mind that rhinos have extremely sensitive olfactory (smell) sense and poor eyesight. The overwhelming noise, flashing lights and competing smells will have been alarming to this animal.”

The use of common hippos and rhinos is even seen as unacceptable by some sections of the circus industry. The Association of Circus Proprietors, a British trade organisation, state in their 2001 document ‘Standards for the Care and Welfare of Circus Animals on Tour’: “No other species of ungulate [hoofed mammal] is acceptable especially (for health and safety reasons) ungulates such as the rhinoceros or common hippopotamus.”

2003 Investigation

In 2003 Freedom for Animals investigators visited three Irish-based circus. The following remarks concern Circus Vegas:

Duo Borcani’s sealion act involved one of the performers doing a hand-balance on the nose of one of the sealions. After the show Freedom for Animals investigators discovered the animals confined to a small pool on the back of a lorry. A 1997 report into animal circuses by the Office of the Environmental Commissioner of the City of Vienna stated that: “it is impossible for circuses to keep seals in a manner suited to the needs of the individual animal” because of their specialised needs and “unsuitability for frequent transport”.


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