Guidance

Travelling circuses: wild animal performance and exhibition

Wild animals cannot be exhibited or used in a performance as part of a travelling circus in England.

Under the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019, you must not exhibit wild animals or use them in a performance as part of a travelling circus in England.

You could get an unlimited fine and a criminal record for allowing wild animals to perform or be exhibited in a travelling circus.

Definition of wild animal

A wild animal is any species not commonly domesticated in Great Britain, including:

  • big cats, like lions and tigers
  • camels
  • elephants
  • reindeer
  • zebras

The definition of wild animal for this act does not include commonly domesticated species such as dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, pigeons or doves.

See page 29 of the Zoo Licensing Act guide for more information about species that may be classed as wild animals.

Definition of a travelling circus

A travelling circus is a circus which travels from one location to another, regularly or not, to provide entertainment. It can still be considered a travelling circus if it is not moving around frequently, for example where the circus remains in one place after the touring season has finished.

The word ‘circus’ does not need to be in the name.

A circus permanently located at one single site with fixed buildings and structures is a static circus and not covered by this law. However, the rules for wild animals will apply to a static circus if it:

  • sends some or all of its acts to put on a circus show anywhere other than its official location
  • permanently relocates several times

Prevent the public viewing your wild animals

If you’re the owner or manager of a travelling circus with wild animals, you must make every effort to prevent the public viewing the animals.

You may travel with your animals, but you must not:

  • allow the public to view wild animals carrying out tricks or manoeuvres
  • allow the public to see wild animals while the circus is performing or before a show when the public are allowed on the site
  • house, keep or transport wild animals in a way that encourages viewing by the public or promotes the circus
  • use wild animals in displays, photo opportunities, parades and animal rides
  • use imagery or footage of wild animals to promote your activities, including on printed materials, websites and social media

These rules apply even if you are not asking for payment or a donation.

You would however not commit an offence, for example, if the public saw a wild animal grazing in a paddock if you’d made no active effort to encourage viewing, or promote the circus.

Permitted wild animal performances or exhibitions

Animal performances or exhibitions which do not form part of a circus or are not used to promote a circus, are not included in this ban. This includes:

  • bird of prey displays
  • festive reindeer displays
  • school or educational visit
  • animal encounters and handling sessions or parties
  • animals used for television, film or advertisements
  • zoo and safari park outreach activities
  • mobile animal exhibits

Transporting wild animals

Travelling circuses are still allowed to transport wild animals while they are in England.

For example, you can transport wild animals:

  • for veterinary treatment or for re-homing
  • as part of a travelling circus passing through England on tour but not used in performance or exhibited
  • considered as pets and transported with the travelling circus

Read guidance on the welfare of animals during transport.

Protect animal welfare

If you choose to keep wild animals with your travelling circus, you must continue to comply with animal welfare and public safety regulations.

Read guidance on animal welfare, and check if you need to apply for a licence to keep a wild animal.

Inspections

An inspector appointed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) may inspect your travelling circus to check that you do not have wild animals performing or being exhibited.

You could get an unlimited fine if you do not assist or you intentionally obstruct an inspector.

The inspector can bring up to 2 other people with them to help with their inspection. These can include a police constable or a person from the local animal health office.

An inspector must show identification and explain why they are carrying out an inspection. They can bring appropriate equipment and materials with them.

If they’re entering under a warrant, they must produce a copy of the warrant and leave a copy with either the person in charge or on the premises.

An inspector can seize any item, other than a wild animal, if it helps to prove that you or your circus has committed an offence.

Report complaints

If you have concerns that a travelling circus is exhibiting wild animals or using them in a performance, you should email your complaint to Defra at circuswildanimal@defra.gov.uk.

Published 20 December 2019
Last updated 25 February 2020 + show all updates
  1. Added email address for reporting complaints.

  2. First published.