International transportation of animals

Many animals in Irish circuses are imported from across Europe – including very long journeys from Italy, France and Germany.

In 2005, a rhino and hippo belonging to an Italian circus were transported around Ireland with Circus Hoffenburg. After around ten months in Ireland the animals were transported back to the continent around October 2005. Freedom for Animals’ campaign partners in Belgium, Bite Back, caught up with the animals in Belgium in November. It is possible that the animals were then moved to France and Italy.

In 2006, acting on a tip-off from a member of the public in January, Freedom for Animals discovered that a truck carrying the same rhino and hippo was on its way back to Ireland, a journey of around 1,000 miles.

The animals were carried by ship from the continent into England and then by road by a ‘transport agent’ through Wales where they were due to go by ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare. However, the lorry was turned away by ferry officials and had to extend its journey all the way to Holyhead ferry instead. In the early hours of the morning, after at least a couple of days on the road, the lorry was involved in a collision with a taxi near Aberystwyth in west Wales.

Police allowed the animal transporter to carry on its way and, despite the accident, no officials inspected the animals. While there may be no legal obligation to check the animals, Freedom for Animals believes the police should have alerted animal welfare officers to the consignment and that the animals should have been checked.

Then, just 15 miles further on, the lorry broke down. Not only did the driver (a well-known circus manager who has worked extensively in the UK and Ireland) have no money for diesel or animal food but the lorry also had two flat tyres. Fortunately, a local business helped buy food for the animals and get money wired through so that the lorry could be repaired and get on its way after around 6 hours stuck in a lay-by.

When Freedom for Animals spoke to local council officials in Wales they told us they were not even aware of the animals, the accident or breakdown. While there may not have been a legal obligation on the part of the driver to alert officials to the accident and breakdown, it does raise into question the efficiency of current legislation to protect the welfare of animals.

The lorry then continued its journey to Holyhead where it went by ferry to Dun Laoighaire and by road all the way down to Kilkenny where the animals were to join the American Three Ring Circus (better known as Circus Vegas).

Once finally in Ireland, no local or national government officials we spoke to at the time were aware of the animals, although a permit had been given to import the animals.

We immediately alerted the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAF) in Dublin with our concerns for the welfare of the animals.

It took five months to get a detailed response from DAF; this followed numerous e-mails and phone calls asking it for a reply, a complaint to DAF’s Customer Service Unit and, finally, a formal complaint to the Ombudsman and the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

In that response, DAF confirmed that a licence had been issued for the rhino and hippo, as well as two elephants, to be imported to Ireland and that:

“all imports into Ireland of live animals are required to be notified to the Department a minimum of 24 hours prior to arrival as is any change in point of entry as soon as possible.”

It also stated that the delay caused by the accidents in Wales, and the change of port, had not been reported to DAF so it was not aware that the animals had arrived. However, it accepted the agent’s defence that the lack of communication had been down to a language difficulty.

According to DAF : “because of certain difficulties experienced between Fishguard and Holyhead, transportation to Ireland was delayed by a number of days.”

In a subsequent letter to Freedom for Animals, it said: “the delay between the planned departure from Fishguard and the actual departure from Holyhead was a matter of 10 to 12 hours, during which, we understand, the animals remained on the truck and, during which time they were provided with feed and water.”

Although a local department vet inspected the animals in Kilkenny after their arrival – presumably because Freedom for Animals rang the local office direct, having been unable to get a response from head office – the Animal Health Division did not visit until five months after our initial complaint. DAF stated that they found no “cause for concern” on either inspection.

Sources close to Irish circuses told Freedom for Animals in December 2006 that the rhino and hippo had been transported to Spain in late November to appear in a circus in Valencia.

We were also informed that Shakira, the giraffe used at Circus Sydney in 2006, who was originally imported from Germany, was to be used in France during the winter 2006/2007 season.

Freedom for Animals is extremely concerned about the long journeys animals are subjected to, transported around Europe.

Freedom for Animals calls for a ban on the use of all animals in circuses in Ireland. In the meantime, we have called for an immediate ban on the importation of animals for use in circuses.

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