The Royal Russian Circus


Run by Wayne Courtney
Started in 2005
Formerly used the name Daredevil Circus, until early 2005
Renamed the Great European Circus and then Courtney Brothers’ Circus (2012)


Animals used in 2007: 2 elephants, giraffe, camels, ponies, horses
Animals used in 2006: 2 elephants, giraffe, camels, ponies

Freedom for Animals study


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 elephants performed in the circus – one Asian, named Maya, the other a young African named Baby. The latter, according to the vet, “looked uncertain and insecure and spent as much of the time as it could tucked closely in to Maya.”

Samantha Lindley: “Both elephants were asked to do the usual balancing routines, but only Maya had to balance on her front legs (a sort of elephant handstand). This act and the practice of this act puts unnatural and dangerous weight on the front legs. Since elephants in captivity are so notoriously prone to osteoarthritis of the feet, this performance is unwarranted and potentially dangerous.”
“Maya also has to walk across a series of pedestals in a straight line. This is a highly unnatural act and is obviously quite difficult to do.”

After the show visitors could see the elephants and have close contact with them. Rather than being chained, the elephants had about half an acre of field to use. This at least provided the opportunity to move about unrestricted.

Vet Samantha Lindley: “It was interesting to see them attempt to dust bathe from the grass and to use a couple of posts stuck in the ground as scratching posts in an attempt to perform a few natural behaviours. However, there was also nowhere else for them to go but this enclosure or the lorry. There was no shelter or shade.”

The fence surrounding the elephants did not appear to be electrified as children could clearly be seen leaning across it as they pushed through it to touch and feed the elephants (see the section on health and safety, below).


The Royal Russian Circus has the only giraffe in an Irish circus; in fact this species is rarely used in circuses around the world.

Shakira, around three-years-old and belonging to a German animal trainer spent the 2005 season with two other Irish circuses.

She was walked into the ring on a halter and the audience in ringside seats was provided with bits of bread to feed her with. One boy was brought into the ring and put bread in his mouth, with Shakira then taking it from his mouth. The act’s presenter gave the boy a ‘helping hand’, holding the boy’s head while Shakira took food from his mouth.

After the show, visitors could see the animals in their living areas. Shakira was confined to a small pen, approximately 10 metres in diameter. Children crowded around the pen to feed grass to the giraffe. The safety risks associated with this are discussed below.

Vet Samantha Lindley:

“Giraffes require, as the minimum, a large space (certainly in excess of half an acre) and a variety of habitats. A variety of substrates including sand, mud and a hard packed surface are essential, along with shade and pools. Overhanging browse is the minimal requirement for delivery of feed.

“Visual and auditory senses are most vulnerable, so over stimulation should be avoided by keeping background noise to a minimum. Rubbing posts should be available, as should a continuous variety of browse at various levels.

“This giraffe is solitary and appears to be maintained in a small lorry which does not appear high enough to accommodate the giraffe when standing fully erect: this presumably encourages lying during transport, which is safer, but precludes the giraffe having anywhere comfortable to escape from the public, from noise, or from heat, wind or rain. The outside enclosure is approximately 10 metres in diameter consisting of a grass substrate and bars. There is no browse apparent, nor water, although both may be available inside. There is no space to escape from noise or visual stimuli and no means to run away if alarmed (although the lorry would provide some shelter). There are no rubbing posts and no choices for this animal apart from in the lorry or outside exposed to the weather and whatever stimuli the immediate surroundings offer – this could easily be too much as well as too little.

“There is ample reason for this animal to be frustrated in any attempt to behave normally. What is described above is the minimum requirement for a captive environment; this falls far short of that and this giraffe cannot fail but to feel conflict and frustration. It cannot escape, it cannot retreat, it cannot control its own environment in any way. Being able to control an environment is an important factor in an animal’s welfare, where the definition of welfare is ‘an animal’s ability to avoid suffering and sustain fitness’ .

“This giraffe paced and neck stretched, both signs of abnormal behaviour. The pacing was evident at times even through the distraction of offered food. She paced in front of the open lorry from one side of the enclosure to the other, neck stretched over the bars, turned in an identical manner on each occasion and returned to the other side. Neck stretching occurred randomly at other times: this is a behaviour that is obviously normal in giraffes as they reach for browse, but which can occur in the absence of browse (as here), in which case it is deemed abnormal (performs no useful function) but fills a behavioural vacuum.
“This giraffe is not coping with this environment or life and should not be kept in a circus of any description.”


Camels are social animals, normally living in herds of up to ten individuals. Guidelines regarding keeping camels in captivity usually suggest that they should not be tethered and that sand or earth substrates, branches and rubbing posts should be provided for enrichment.

This circus has two camels, running around the ring a few times with one then standing with his front legs on the ringside barrier leaning over the audience.
Samantha Lindley: “There was no restraint and nothing apart from the power of whatever training it had received to stop it continuing onwards into the crowd.”
The camels were observed after the show, one tethered to a pole, the other loose.

Health and Safety

In November 2006, two elephants from the Royal Russian Circus were walked down roads in Carlow town. According to one witness the animals were petted by children, stepped into a fountain and walked amongst cars on the road. The circus had not alerted police or the local council to their stunt.

Carlow County Council’s Road Safety Officer told the press that he was “very, very concerned”. He told Freedom for Animals that, after hearing of the incident, he reported it “to all Senior Local Authority officials in Carlow County Council and Carlow Town Council.  The matter was reported to the Gardai who also monitored the circus during the remainder of its run in the area to prevent a repeat of the incident.”

(The Star, 11 November 2006; e-mail from Road Safety Officer, Carlow County Council to Freedom for Animals)

Elephant Maya was used in the interval at the circus for children to have their photo taken with her. Those sitting on the crook of her front leg were, in the words of vet Samantha Lindley: “within easy reach of her trunk, which swept around from time to time and she could easily have risen with a child on her back. For the most part her handler was at some distance taking photographs. On the one hand, the degree of trust they have in this animal is touching, on the other it is irresponsible to a high degree to allow children such contact with a large wild animal because of the risk of unpredictable and dangerous behaviour.”

Samantha Lindley: “Maya also has to walk across a series of pedestals in a straight line. This is a highly unnatural act and is obviously quite difficult to do. If Maya misses her footing during the act or the practice it could have disastrous consequences such as falling onto someone in the ring.”

“Outside enclosures: the elephants have clearly been trained to the visual signal of an electric fence. However, when we visited the current appeared not to be switched on. The few strands of wire surrounding the elephant enclosure will fool the animals for a while, but they will only need to brush it once or twice and not get a shock to learn that the current is only there sometimes. They could then walk through this barrier without even noticing. Children spent fifteen minutes crowding around the fence, feeding the elephants, leaning across and through the fence and at one point Maya had her trunk over the fence amongst three toddlers. Only after about twenty minutes did the worker overseeing the elephants start to move them away and discourage further feeding. This all went off safely, and there were no signs that the elephant was distressed by the situation, but nevertheless, in allowing the public such contact with such an animal there is always a risk of a dangerous incident occurring.

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