Circus Circus!

Amanda Sandow, circus artiste, with her horse Steel and pony Frosty

Amazing coincidence.  Last week I was sitting in Frankfurt airport awaiting my flight to Birmingham, and chatting to our Chief Whip Julie Girling MEP (SW) about the recent Private Member’s Bill from Mark Pritchard MP, seeking to outlaw the use of wild animals in circuses.  When blow-me-down but a man on the back-to-back row of seats interrupted to say “I’m Mark Pritchard”.  And indeed he was — returning to the UK via Frankfurt from a meeting in Rome.

Mark has earned a lot of brownie points for standing up to some outrageous pressure from Downing Street, sticking to his guns and refusing to withdraw his bill.  I salute him for that.  But I still have concerns about the Bill.  By all means let’s outlaw ill-treatment, and police it.  (I understand that the RSPCA routinely monitors the welfare of circus animals, and rarely finds any problems, but of course that’s not news and doesn’t get reported).

The move to ban wild animals in circuses is driven by animal rights zealots like PETA and IFAW, whose long-term agenda is to ban any use of animals at all.  Give them a ban on wild animals in circuses, and the next thing they’ll want is other circus animals — including horses.  They’re against racing (whether horses or greyhounds).  They’re against zoos.  They’re against livestock and meat-eating.  They’re campaigning in the European parliament to impose a huge and intrusive new regulatory structure on dog owners in the name of welfare.

And of course their grotesque and ultimate objective is to ban pet-ownership entirely (or as they would say in their cumbersome Guardianista new-speak, “companion animals”) on the grounds that pet ownership “demeans animals”.  Try asking Brindle, my rescue greyhound, if she feels “demeaned” as she sleeps in front of the Aga!

I was recently contacted by a circus artiste, Amanda Sandow, who is terrified that her act with her horse and pony will be outlawed.  Her love and concern for her animals shines through in her correspondence.  So I asked Jolyon Jamieson, who speaks for the industry, to say why we should not support Mark Pritchard’s Bill.  He turned to his colleague Chris Barltrop, who penned the following:

You only have to say the word ‘circus’ to conjure up a whole set of images.  The huge big top.  Equestrians astride high stepping steeds or standing, dancing, somersaulting on horseback.  Daring and skilful artists, performing in and above a circular arena of glowing light, its floor a layer of aromatic sawdust.  Colour.  Romance.  Children and adults sharing a sense of wonder and delight.

From the time of the first modern circus in London in 1768, an essential part of that delight has been the sight of people and animals working together.  Gleaming horses, responding to signals from their trainer’s waving whip or even from his voice, trotting, pirouetting, waltzing together in magical harmony.  Stately elephants whose riders bob precariously astride their necks.  Camels, zebras, monkeys; sometimes trained birds.  And often lions, tigers, perhaps bears, straight from storybooks, soothed but still savage.

There is no magic way to achieve the rapport we see between trainer and animal.  It takes time to develop; it involves trust, developed gently over a long period, usually beginning by playing together when the animals are young, and building on their natural abilities and movements.  Trainers must be patient.   Gentleness, praise and titbits bring positive results, which rough handling or harshness would destroy in an instant.

Circus animals are well cared for; official inspections guarantee that, and in any case the true circus people put their animals first.  Modern trainers hold professional qualifications to verify their traditional skills.  The animals get time off to socialise and follow their natural behaviours.  Circus animals are well-housed, long-lived, happy and healthy.  Circuses provide a unique opportunity to see exotic animals at close quarters, and to appreciate their beauty, their intelligence, their strength and their size. 

In October 2005, the European Parliament adopted by a large majority a resolution calling for greater recognition of and support for the Classical circus as an important facet of European culture.   Circuses must have the highest standards of animal welfare; to protect the animals is to protect and preserve the cultural tradition of the circus for the delight of future generations.

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8 Responses to Circus Circus!

  1. Mils Hills says:

    Roger – a really nice summary of the problem that faces responsible traditional circuses in the UK and beyond.

    The real problem – as a good friend of mine summarises it – is the confusion between animal welfare and animal rights. Once people start confusing animals with people, problems begin.

    Life in the wild is pretty nasty for most animals – the lives of animals we consume in meat / dairy products can be less than perfect – the welfare of animals in circuses, stables and most of our houses is excellent.

    I struggle to understand why the freedom of people to train and display animals that have stimulating lives in circus to people who want the freedom to see and appreciate that is acceptable as a target for a small minority of strident and ill-informed people.

    The uncomfortable truth for those protestors is that the science indicates that animals in circuses have no worse (and usually a better) quality of life and standards of welfare than any captive animal in a zoo and certainly more than any farm animal.

    Thanks for making a stand and holding a line!

    Warmest wishes,


  2. Kay says:

    Every year, millions of dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and other animals are euthanised because they were born into a world that does not have enough homes for them. For every companion animal who lives indoors with a human family and receives the attention, health care and emotional support that he or she needs, there are thousands just barely surviving. Millions of domestic animals never know a kind human touch and live hard lives on the street before dying equally hard deaths.

    Others suffer at the hands of unfit guardians who deprive them of veterinary care and other basic necessities. Social birds are left alone in tiny, barren cages for years as decorations; rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters are kept in filthy cages and are only paraded around as a source of entertainment now and then; cats are left outside, often becoming the victims of cruel people; and some dogs are beaten, abused and treated like punching bags by humans who act as their guardians.

    Every animal deserves a chance to thrive in a responsible and permanent home. Sadly, breeders, pet stores and people who fail to sterilise their companion animals have created a tremendous overpopulation problem that forces animal shelters to put millions of dogs and cats to death every year.

  3. Kay says:

    The majority of English people do not want wild animals in circuses but I guess why would MP’s or even MEP’s listen to them! Obviously, the views of these people are squashed by what the European Parliament and our own Government wants to keep “cultural tradition” even when the majority say it’s wrong and we want it gone!!!

  4. Kay says:

    Horse and Greyhound racing – thousands of unwanted animals bred to find themselves being inhumaley slaughted if they a) don’t make the grade (ie money for their owners) or b) they get to the age of becoming redundant for the same reasons as a. The animals are abused in all sorts of ways and in the case of Greyhounds usually kept in the most appalling conditions without any thought for their health happiness and welfare. Pure human greed breeds these poor creatures! Mr Helmer have you ever looked into/given much thought to your Greyhounds background!? Is your dog covered in the most appalling scars, was it bald on the legs when you adopted? Hopefully, your dog is insured as many future health problems can arise from its racing days! Yours and mine are the small percentage of the lucky ones (estimated only around 4% of all unwanted/retired/don’t make the grade find loving homes), around 10,000 Greyhounds a year die in the UK alone.

  5. I have only been to a couple of circus’s. About 20 years ago I went to a Chipperfield circus in Devon and David Chipperfield did an act with 6 mongrel dogs, it was wonderful to see the intelligence, skill, and obvious love of his dogs shown by David, the dogs obviously were devoted to him and really enjoyed their act. I wish I could see that act again.
    Many people don’t care for their children properly and rear up hooligans, they need instruction from people like the Chipperfields! Animals and people need- love, care, fun and understanding.

  6. amanda sandow says:

    Well said Rachel…..And the spotty boys are doing very well…..

  7. Tom Sandow says:

    Is there any legislation pending or otherwise to ban the use of domestic and equestrian animals from touring circus? As far as I understand it there is not.

  8. Tom Sandow says:

    Further to this posting. Could I ask you please to read my article under the heading ‘Circus Friends – Art – Animals’ to be found at with regard to the desire to license all trainers and keepers of performing animals as per agreement with the Theatre Managers Association 1944.

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