Health and safety in Irish animal circuses

– Part 1

In 2006, Freedom for Animals investigators visited animal circuses in Ireland. On some of the inspections, our investigators were accompanied by a vet, Samantha Lindley, experienced in the welfare and behaviour of captive wildlife.

This factsheet is based on information contained in the Freedom for Animals report about animal circuses in Ireland. The information relates specifically to those circuses visited by Freedom for Animals and the situation at that particular time.


The health and safety of the visiting public and of circus staff is of serious concern to Freedom for Animals and our 2006 investigation has highlighted many issues that we encourage the relevant authorities to take action on.

Some health and safety concerns are directly related to the welfare of the animals; animals who have physical or behavioural health problems or who are frightened become unpredictable, which can have disastrous consequences. They could, for example, become aggressive and cause serious injury to circus staff or members of the public.

Circuses pose a particular problem with health and safety due to the hands-on nature of training the animals and performing with them in the ring and the fact that the public are very close to the animals both in the ring and in the circus ‘zoo’ before or after a performance.

In the circuses we visited that had large animals, barriers around the ring were inadequate to prevent some of the larger animals escaping into the ringside audience if they had become frightened. The barriers were low in height (approximately one metre). Those audience members in ringside seats are particularly vulnerable.

Conditions in zoos are bad enough for animals and Freedom for Animals investigations in several countries have exposed many serious health and safety problems. However, zoos, because they are subject to regulation, cannot run some of the risks associated with circuses, such as allowing members of the public to have physical contact with four-ton elephants.

Health and safety problems highlighted by our visits in July 2006 are listed below for each circus. However, given the particular concerns about the use of elephants, this species is described separately.

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