Travelling circus with wild animals: get a licence

Costs and conditions of the licence, inspections and information you need to provide.

This guidance was withdrawn on

This page has been withdrawn because it’s out of date. Read current guidance about wild animal performance and exhibition in travelling circuses in England.

From 20 January 2020, you will not be able to exhibit wild animals or use them in a performance as part of a travelling circus in England.

You must have a licence if you run a travelling circus with wild animals that give performances or displays.

Wild animals (PDF, 775KB, 79 pages) include any species not normally domesticated in Great Britain.

It’s an offence to run a travelling circus with wild animals without a licence – you can go to prison and be fined up to £5,000.

How to apply

When you apply for a licence the process is:

  1. You appoint a lead veterinarian who specialises in the wild animals used in your circus – they’re in charge of veterinary care for the animals.
  2. Read the form guidance notes.
  3. Complete and sign the application form.
  4. Include the application fee – a cheque or postal order for £389.36 made out to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
  5. Include the following information, which must be up to date (your application can’t be processed without this):
  • care plan for each animal, agreed with your lead vet (this shows you’re complying with licensing conditions and welfare standards)
  • list of animals covered by the licence (with details of their unique identification or microchip number)
  • locations of all animals covered by the licence
  • individual record for each animal (this must travel with the animal)
  • tour itinerary with dates at each site (this must be given at least 30 days before the tour starts)
  • list of people authorised to have contact with and care for the animals
  • copy of any licence or authorisation from your home country (if not from England). 6. Send the form and the information to the APHA circus licensing team (see contacts). 7. APHA will contact you to arrange an inspection, which must take place before a licence can be issued. You have to pay for the inspection (£72.53 per hour, plus travel or accommodation costs). 8. A licensing panel considers your application. 9. If your application is approved, APHA emails you a copy of the licence and sends a copy by post.

It can take up to 6 weeks to get a licence (longer if further information is required or if it’s difficult to arrange the inspection).

The first licence is valid for a year. You need to re-apply every year.

When you can’t get a licence

You can’t get a licence if you’ve been disqualified under any of the animal welfare legislation listed in section 2 of the application form.


After the first inspection when you apply for a licence, you have at least 2 further inspections during the year. One of these inspections will be unannounced.

The inspector will check that you’re meeting the conditions of the licence.

You need to pay for the inspections – they cost £72.53 per hour, plus travel or accommodation costs.

Meet conditions of the licence

You must meet the following licensing conditions:

  • implement care plans for all animals including requirements on diet, performance, environment, breeding
  • arrange a visit by a vet at least every 3 months
  • prove you take good care of the animals
  • make sure a suitably qualified and experienced person is in overall charge of the animals
  • make sure you have enough staff to maintain public and animal safety
  • only allow suitably qualified and experienced people unsupervised access to the animals
  • keep a journey plan when the circus moves
  • have clear procedures for staff working with animals (for example, contingency plans for fires or if an animal escapes)
  • prove that your circus is safe for people and animals (for example, having emergency drills for fires or escapes)

Records you must keep

You must keep up to date written records of:

  • tour itineraries
  • licensed animals
  • locations of licensed animals
  • individual records for all animals
  • list of people authorised to care for the animals
  • list of authorised people on duty (this must be visible to staff where animals are kept)
  • journey plans (including details of the plan and the actual journey)

You must keep care plans that include:

  • assessment of welfare risks
  • behavioural and environmental enrichment
  • breeding policy
  • dietary requirements
  • preventative medicine programme (for example, vaccinations and worming treatments)
  • daily welfare records
  • retirement, when animals are no longer able to take part in shows

You may need to send copies of the records to APHA at any time as evidence that you’re complying with licence conditions.

Give notice of any changes

You must tell APHA as soon as possible if:

  • you change a tour itinerary
  • you change the list of animals
  • you get a new wild animal for use in the travelling circus (you must do this at least 14 days before you get the animal)
  • the licence holder dies and another party wishes to operate under the existing licence

Meet transport rules

You must meet animals’ needs when travelling – vehicles are checked when you’re inspected.


If you don’t comply with licence conditions your licence may be suspended until licensing conditions have been met.

If your licence is suspended for more than 28 days, it may be revoked.


If your licence is denied or cancelled, you can appeal to a magistrates’ court.

You must do this within 28 days.


Centre for International Trade: Bristol


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Deanery Road

Published 15 September 2014
Last updated 1 October 2014 + show all updates
  1. AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

  2. First published.