The last home of retired circus animals


The circus is itinerant, which means that lThe animals are constantly moved, and not only from one city to another, but also from one country to another. This implies that they do not have fixed facilities that can be minimally adapted to their needs, but that they live in trailers or trucks in which they are displaced most of the time. They just leave these trucks to act or between performances, which means that the rest of the time they remain tied, or in a tent next to the truck, or they are mounted a temporary enclosure, with some fences and a little straw, wherever the circus is installed. This is done even with some large mammals such as elephants or hippos. In addition to all this, animals are forced to work and perform unnatural behaviors for long hours.

The scientific evidence collected over the years shows that the impact that circuses have on animal welfare is serious. Definitely, the traveling life of the circus cannot guarantee that animals live in a suitable environment, nor that they have an adequate diet, nor that they can develop their natural behaviors such as swimming and bathing, hunting, satisfying their social needs and living in a pack, interacting with others of their kind, resting during the day the nocturnal species, etc. And all these lacks can cause serious problems as physiological responses to stress, emotional suffering, depression, the appearance of abnormal behaviors, diseases and physical suffering.

In nature, elephants reach up to 50 km in one day and hippos 10 km. The territories where lions live can cover more than 220 km2 and those of tigers up to 180 km2.

Unfortunately, the list of animals used in the circus is quite long: baboons, camels, dromedaries, llamas, zebras, crocodiles, seals, sea lions, bears, etc., but still we could highlight a few species that are widely used and that seem Be “emblematic” for the circus: elephants, tigers, lions, hippos and giraffes.

Elephants: In nature they enjoy a very complex social life, they live in packs of matriarchal structure of several dozen individuals and establish close ties between them, crying even the death of a partner. For this species, the simple fact of living alone and without the company of other elephants is already a mistreatment, just as it would be for a human being. They are nomadic animals and of great intelligence. In addition, they need to drink a large amount of water, have access to it for bathing, and they need a lot of space, since they reach up to 50 km in one day.

In the circus all these needs are inhibited, so that elephants suffer serious problems, not only emotional, such as stereotypy, apathy or depression, but also physical, such as arthritis and severe lameness, due to the time they spend chained or forced to perform so many unnatural postures.

Tigers: They are solitary animals, which live with females only during the breeding season. Its territory can extend up to 180 km2. They are hunters and their morphology is designed to run, jump, climb and travel long distances. Also, tigers like water very much and can swim great distances.

In the circus they are forced to live in tow cages with other tigers, or even with other cats, which causes them great stress and frustration. They cannot perform the exercise they need or have access to water.

Lions: They are highly social animals that live in groups of up to 20 individuals. They rest and interact with others during the day and are activated at night. The territories in which they live can cover more than 220 km2.

Lions suffer greatly from noise, traffic and the close presence of people and other species.

Tigers and lions, along with other carnivores from large territories, are the ones with the highest levels of stress and psychological problems, most show stereotyped, self-destructive and abnormal behaviors.

Hippos: They are semi-aquatic animals, with a body adapted to a life of amphibian. At the circus at most they occasionally receive a hose shower. They travel about 10 km every day, they are especially active at night when they go out to graze and live in groups of up to 100 animals. In the circus they are alone, they have a very restricted space, they cannot graze and they are also forced to perform unnatural behaviors.

Giraffes: in nature they are gregarious and peaceful, they live in groups of several individuals and cover large territories looking for food, since they have a very specialized diet based on leaves and buds that reach from the highest treetops.

Due to their size, their transportation and accommodation is quite complicated, and since they are also difficult to tame, their show is limited to making them go around the track.

Giraffes, being herbivorous animals, are constantly on alert, even when they rest, and in the circus this state increases, causing them high levels of stress, also aggravated by the lack of space.


Based on facts observed and verified firsthand by the journalist, or reported by reliable and well informed sources.

Like half a thousand Spanish municipalities, Madrid will also not allow shows with wildlife

Infocircos, a coalition of entities, is looking for a center to live when they are released, returning to their natural habitat is not an option

Many of the animals come from illegal traffic, others from the circus world

Vigo and Kumba were the first to arrive. Two young lions that in their previous life responded to the names of Simba and Mufasa. When, after the quarantine of rigor, they went to the exterior facilities of the center that had hosted them they were scared to see bushes and bushes.

They never lived where they should have lived. His new home - a fenced and naturalized land of 1,792 square meters - little resembled the small wagons where they spent their days. Nor do they have the mane characteristic of lions because their previous owners had subjected them to chemical castration. At first, they didn't even roar. The arrival of this pair of cats at the rescue center in May 2017 marked the beginning of the end of circuses with wild animals.

These eight-year-old brothers who were part of Circus Europe were the first to be voluntarily assigned to a rescue center -AAP Primadomus, based in Villena, Alicante- with the commitment of the owners not to use more wild animals in their shows. The other tenants had arrived after being rescued or delivered after confiscation operations. The majority come from illegal traffic and others, such as Vigo and Kumba, from the circus world.

Behind the plan to motivate circus owners to voluntarily transfer their animals are Infocircos, a coalition of entities for the protection of animals and wildlife, to which ANDA, FAADA and AAP Primadomus belong, among others.

Veterinary support

According to Alberto Diez, director of the National Association for the Defense of Animals (ANDA), his project to end the use of animals in circus performances has a scientific basis. They are supported by reports prepared by the European Veterinary Federation and by several veterinary schools in Spain that maintain that "it is impossible to maintain correctly or satisfy the needs of a wild animal in a roaming captivity". It also involves enormous suffering for them, implies a danger to public safety and puts animal health at risk.

There are more and more municipalities free of circuses with wild animals in Spain, about half a thousand already. The mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, announced at the end of January that the circuses that use wild animals in their shows cannot be installed in the capital.

In December 2018, the Valencian Community became the sixth Autonomous Community to approve the prohibition of circuses with animals, following the steps of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Galicia, Region of Murcia and La Rioja. Regarding the approval of this measure, Marta Merchбn, coordinator of Infocircos, has assured that "this new prohibition shows a unstoppable trend in the conversion of circuses into shows without animals, both within Spain and at European level, where most countries have stopped allowing the use of wild animals in circuses. "

Despite this trend that Merchбn talks about, in Europe there are still countries where circus performances with animals are still allowed. Italy, France, Germany and Spain among them. The latest Eurogroup for Animals report -Wild Animals in EU circuses: problems, risks and solutions (Wild animals in European circuses: problems, risks and solutions) - prevents the number of dangerous incidents in circuses throughout the region. This is the case of the tigress who lost consciousness in full show (at the Baddasбrov brothers' circus in Russia) and was forced to continue with the function.

Without going any further, on April 2, 2018 a group of elephants were released after an accident while traveling in a truck and forced to cut the A-30 in Pozo Caсada (Albacete). One of them passed away. Weeks before this event, a neighbor of the extreme municipality of La Garrovilla warned about the presence of a hippo in the middle of the street. The animal, called Pipo, penetrated a circus and, according to Infocircos, was the fifth time he escaped.

Circuses with wild animals in Spain

Alberto Diez says that "there are currently about eight Spanish circuses with wild animals", which include among their 'stars' large cats, elephants, some hippos or crocodiles. In the Eurogroup for Animals report nine are quantified. These are figures without considering wild animals that have been voluntarily assigned in the last two years. Ten acknowledges that knowing the exact number of wild animals performing in circuses in Spain is complicated by the roaming of these types of shows. However, he believes that the plan they have from Infocircos is perfectly viable. "It must be a gradual process," he warns, because It is difficult to immediately find suitable homes for these creatures.

When circus animals in Spain are 'released' there are several options: go to a rescue and shelter center like Primadomus (the only one specialized in circus animals in southern Europe) or as the Mona Foundation or Rainfer - these two exclusive for primates-, be transferred to a zoo or similar or relocate them to a sanctuary abroad.

Returning to its natural habitat is not an option. since most were born in captivity and could not survive. There are few cases of Spanish circus animals that now live in a state of semi-freedom and have been exceptional situations. Like that of Natasha, a lion cub rescued by the Raъl Mйrida Foundation, which was moved to a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa. A similar fate has been Nala, a lioness who after being rescued by AAP Primadomus from an illegal circus animal breeder and spent a year in rehabilitation at the NGO's facilities, has traveled to the Lions Rock sanctuary at the end of the year.

As regards the animals of the circus world voluntarily ceded by their owners, after Vigo and Kumba, more cases have been added. The second case occurred in September 2017. On that occasion, the Wonderland circus donated seven tigers and a lion that came to live in the Villena facilities. Later in June 2018, five of them traveled to what will be their permanent home, the zoo on the British island of Wight.

Months later, between January and February 2018, Primadomus received new tenants. Two lions and a tiger from the circus France. While negotiating the conditions of the transfer, the felines they remained locked in wagons in poor conditions for a long period of time. The last to be transferred - in August of last year - have been four tigers, without knowing the circus in which they worked. They have been transferred to the zoo El Bosque in Asturias and to Aitana Safari in Alicante. To welcome the felines, both zoos undertook fundraising campaigns.

Raquel Lуpez, a lawyer in the DeAnimals animal law firm, has mediated in some of these cases. As he explains, the main problem that Spain has in relation to the prohibition of the use of animals in circuses is that "there are no places to take them immediately"A large part of the centers with the right conditions to receive them are saturated or overwhelmed, as is the case with Rainfer or Primadomus. In addition, when it comes to the voluntary transfers, the owners prefer to be transferred to nearby facilities - not abroad- to be able to visit them occasionally by the link that they have generated with them.

Traumas and health problems

In only one of the cases the owners have come to visit the animals after the cessation, says Berta Alzaga, a member of the AAP Primadomus communication team. In any case, it specifies that the visits are as widely spaced as possible so as not to alter the process of dissociation with humans. At the Villena rescue center, 80% of the big cats received come from circuses or breeders related to this world. It was initially thought that it would be a place of temporary reception, but they have tenants who end up staying for years. The animals arrive at their facilities to face a long recovery process.

Alzaga says that usually present self-directed behaviors (such as hurting themselves), skin, muscle and weight problems, among other sequelae. For example, Silas and Govani, from Circus France, arrived very thin and had trouble walking. They have been gaining weight little by little, in a controlled way. Other felines exhibit behaviors of passing, that is, they make the same route over and over again in a short distance. As a memory of his walk in the few square meters of his wagon.


The owners are worried about the fate of the animals: they notice the impossibility of continuing to pay for the expensive care and the great zoos have said that it is difficult to receive them.

"We are waiting for a response from the government regarding what will happen to our animals," says Armando Cedeño, president of the National Union of Businessmen and Artists of Circuses (Uneac), which brings together dozens of circus entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, in a farm in Tizayuca, a municipality near Mexico City, several circus trailers remain parked. In some mobile homes, now unemployed artists sleep, next to facilities with tigers, jaguars, zebras, llamas, horses and dromedaries.

In spite of everything, the tamer Bruno Raffo continues with his daily routine. Early in the morning he cleans the cages, feeds thirteen tigers he supervises and makes room for them to exercise.


Raffo, an Argentine family of tamers with scratch scars on his arms, says the cost of keeping the tigers is almost $ 200 a day. Add to that the salaries of caregivers and specialized veterinarians.

"Most of the workers went to their homes, others are here 'parked' on the grounds waiting for a new notice, I have to be here with the animals to see what can be done later," says Raffo.

The process of locating tigers, giraffes, elephants and bears is not easy.

In large public zoos such as Chapultepec, administered by the government of the Mexican capital and occupying seven hectares, they do not find it very feasible to receive specimens such as Raffo tigers because it is a group of many animals accustomed to being together.


"We already have a collection plan where we have an established capacity for animals that we can keep in good condition and it would be counterproductive to think of such large groups," said Arturo Rivera, general director of zoos and wildlife at the capital's government.

To try to reach a solution, the federal government is evaluating what facilities, from public and private zoos to scientific research centers or ecotourism centers could receive animals.

Private zoos such as Africam Safari, one of the largest in the country where animals are loose and visitors roam the place by car, has been willing to help with animal relocation. But they say it is a complex process.

"It depends largely on the physical and mental condition of the animals themselves to adapt," says its director, Frank Carlos Camacho.