Our mission: To protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.


The BC SPCA is opposed to the capture, acclimatization, training and use of animals, particularly exotic ones, in circuses. In the past, people were thrilled at the sight of huge elephants standing on their hind legs, bears riding bicycles and lions and tigers jumping through flaming hoops. However, with greater awareness of the behaviour and needs of wild animals and their habitats, many members of the public have come to question the ethics of the circus environment as it applies to animals.

An increasing number of communities throughout Canada have adopted by-laws rejecting the use of wild or exotic animals in circuses and similar performances. British Columbia is the leading Canadian province with 20 municipalities banning circuses that have wild and exotic animals performing. Modern circuses have already begun to redefine themselves by eliminating outdated and exploitive wild animal acts becoming animal-free circuses - the best known of which is probably Canada's own Cirque du Soleil. The majority of people do not see an 'educational value' in circuses where bears, for example, are taken out of their natural habitat and force-trained to ride bicycles.

For animals still trapped in the existence of the travelling show, it is crucial that the public help their cause. One of the first things that people can do is to boycott circuses with animals. However, municipal bylaws that restrict performing animals is the best way to assure circuses do not have a place to set up. 

Conditions on the Road

Circuses travel from one city to another to perform their shows. Touring seasons last quite a while, some 48 to 50 weeks of year. Some circus animals may end a tour with one company only to be placed in another circus tour group, thus working all year long. Bears, lions, elephants, and other animals travel in 'beast cars' where they sleep, eat, and defecate.

Zoos in the past shared similar animal handling methodologies found in circuses, but have since introduced more effective and humane practices. For example, elephant management in zoos no longer chain elephants, yet this is a common practice in circuses.

Public Safety

Is it safe to have wild animals in proximity of people and their homes? Experience has shown that circus animals have gotten loose because of inappropriate cages or barriers. These large wild animals despite trainers claiming to have them under control, at anytime may follow their natural wild instinct and not behave as a 'tamed' animal. Wild animals should be kept wild by respecting their wildness and keeping a safe distance. 

Deaths and injury to people have been recorded widely as a result of circus animals due to poor emergency protocols and equipment at circuses. Zoocheck's report found the following Canadian incidents on record:

  • 7/07 Newmarket, Ontario - Three elephants escaped from the Garden Bros. Circus and wandered into a nearby residential area before being rounded up and returned to their compound.

  • 8/99 Toronto, Ontario - During the "Lights, Camera, Animals" show at Paramount Canada's Wonderland, a lion bit two trainers causing minor injuries. The lion was controlled with a fire extinguisher.

  • 5/99 Timmins, Ontario - Between performances of the "Leonard Circus", an elephant killed an employee. The worker was assisting the trainer, prepping the elephant for a show when he was kicked in the head and fell backwards.

  • 4/97 Calgary, Alberta - An elephant giving rides at the "Al Azhar Shrine Circus" bit and knocked down one of its handlers. The circus refused to remove the elephant from public performances.

  • 8/94 Coquitlam, B.C. - A tiger was caught under a hoop of fire and was burning for approximately ten seconds. The ramp that the tiger was expected to run up to get to the hoop slippsed and the hoop of fire fell onto the cat.

  • 11/93 Metro Toronto, Ont. A keeper at the Metro Toronto Zoo was gored through the abdomen by an elephant.

  • 3/91 Oshawa, Ont. A 450 pound tiger featured in Jane Jones Exotic Circus leapt on passersby on two different occasions.

  • 7/90 Mississauga, Ont. A 600 pound tiger escaped for 10 minutes from the Shrine Circus.

  • 8/88 Mississauga, Ont. A brown bear at a Moscow Circus matinee performance bolted into the audience.

Trade in Wildlife

According to the 1994 Traffic Europe-World Wildlife Fund report CITES and The Regulation of Wildlife Trade for European Circuses, there is a limited but consistent circus trade in wild-caught apes, bears, elephants, and other species which has escaped the attention of wildlife trade enforcement authorities. According to Zoocheck's report "the impact of the illegal trade on wildlife populations is devastating. It is estimated that 80% of the animals handled die either in the capture process, in transit or within first few months of captivity."

How Can You Help Animals in Circuses

Now that you have a snapshot of what is happening under the big top you may want to know how you can help the animals.

Choose one or more of the suggestions below to help:

  1. Call your City or Municipal Hall and find out if Council is considering a by-law to ban circuses that have performing wild or exotic animals.

  2. Fax a letter to the Mayor expressing your concern about the community supporting acts that abuse animals. Copy your letter to the SPCA or local humane group.

  3. Write a similar letter to the media. Don't hesitate to send your letter to the editor of both daily and community papers expressing your point of view.

  4. Join or start a committee, perhaps working with the SPCA or local humane group, whose goal is to implement a campaign to convince Council to adopt a by-law against the use of wild/exotic animals in performing venues.

  5. Don't attend a circus with performing animals - only attend animal-free circuses.


For more information on the plight of animals in circuses in Canada visit Zoocheck Canada, a national animal protection charity established to protext wildlife in captivity and in the wild. They have background information on circuses and the welfare of circus animals, as well as a listing of animal-free circuses.

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