Where the animals come from

Each year some animals are imported into Ireland for use in circuses, transported hundreds of miles by land and sea just to perform in the circus ring.

Since 2006 these animals have included: elephants, rhino, hippo, giraffe, sea lions, penguins and lions from the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy.

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 for use in circuses there.

In January 2006, 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. During its journey through Wales, the lorry was in a collision and later broke down, later finally making its way to Ireland although no government officials in Wales were even aware that a rhino and hippo had travelled by truck through the area, let alone had been involved in a crash or breakdown.

Circus Animal Trade

Inquiries by Freedom for Animals have established that there is a major trade in animals from across Europe to circuses in Ireland:


Number of animals imported for use in circuses, 2006 – 2012, by species


(Pinnipeds are sea lions, seals and walruses. In the table above pinniped refers to sea lions and fur seals)

There are clear welfare problems in transporting animals over such huge distances and then transporting them around Ireland for many months (the circus season will last for about ten months, partly depending on weather conditions). Circuses in Ireland often move venues twice in a week, so the animals are rarely provided the opportunity to settle into new surroundings and are subjected to confinement and regular transportation.

There is no legislation specifically concerning the private keeping of dangerous wild animals in the Republic of Ireland. The ISPCA claim that this has resulted in a large trade in certain species; although legal, such unregulated trade raises serious animal welfare concerns. It is possible that such unregulated dealing is the source of some animals used in circuses and that circuses offload unwanted animals into the private trade. The animal welfare problems and risks to health and safety of people are massive.

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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