Circus animals like big cats, elephants, and bears have all suffered in the name of entertainment throughout the years.

But with the rise of modern technology, that’s all become unnecessary and shouldn’t happen anymore. So let’s dive right into how circus animals facts and statistics and see why these amazing creatures need our help. 

Little Known Facts About Circus Animals

  • 96% of circus animals spend 11 months a year chained in cages.
  • 5%–6% of US elephants in circuses and captivity have TB.
  • Circus handlers use ‘wonder dust’ to hide elephant injuries. 
  • Between 1990–2021, 126 big cats in captivity have died.
  • Circuses force bears to stand on their hind legs or face strangulation.
  • Between 1987–2019, captive elephants killed 20 people.
  • Bolivia was the first country to ban circus animals in 2009.

Animals in Circuses Facts

Here’s what we found out about the suffering of circus animals.

1. 96% of Circus Animals Spend 11 Months a Year Chained in Cages.

(Source: World Animal Protection)

  • Circuses travel all the time, forcing the animals to spend most of their lives in crates, carted from state to state with no protection from the weather. Also, they eat and use the bathroom in one tiny space.
  • The leading cause of death for these poor animals is arthritis and foot infections. They spend most of their life standing on a hard surface, but their paws and hooves aren’t made for this. 
  • On arriving at their destination, the animals stay in crates until it’s time for training or showtime. And both of these often include punishment like whips, bullhooks, and strangulation.

If that’s not bad enough, circus elephants facts are some of the most heartbreaking.

2. 5%–6% Of US Elephants in Circuses and Captivity Have TB.

(Source: National Geographic)

  • Elephants can get tuberculosis from infected humans and vice versa. Generations of elephants have been bred in human civilization, so their bodies adapted and can take on human mutated infection and viruses.
  • Elephants are among the most mistreated circus animals because of their size and the sheer force it takes to train a massive animal. Besides, they’re taken from their mothers at a young age. Nobody needs a reminder of that scene in Dumbo. We still can’t watch that movie.
  • In circus animal training, trainers use bullhooks, which are insanely painful for the elephant. The metal hook digs into sensitive body parts to promote a trick or show dominance when the wild animal is unruly.

Unfortunately, animal circus abuse is common. What’s more, poachers kill 100 elephants a day in Africa. So the animals aren’t safe from humans anywhere. 

3. Circus Handlers Use “Wonder Dust” To Hide Elephant Injuries. 

(Source: MSPCA–Angell)

  • The dust is a grey color that coagulates the wound to stop the bleeding, while the color hides the holes on the elephant’s skin. More disturbing, elephant skin is about one inch thick so the amount of force needed is horrific.
  • Circus animals receive little to no veterinary care. They suffer in silence and are tortured if they act out.
  • Jumbo, the largest US circus elephant, which was part of Barnum’s circus from 1881, died after he was hit by a train. The animals were shackled so close to the tracks that if the train derailed or stopped, the animals would have been in danger of passing trains. 

We wish this were the end of the circus animal abuse statistics, but it’s not.

Elephant on the stage - Circus Handlers Use “Wonder Dust” To Hide Elephant Injuries. 

Circus Animals Abuse Facts

Elephants aren’t the only ones being mistreated. There’s a long list of circus animals that are treated horribly.

4. Between 1990–2021, 126 Big Cats in Captivity Have Died.

(Source: PETA)

  • And as you can guess, these big cats didn’t die from natural causes. The 126 cats died simply from living in captivity. The animals literally go into a form of ‘zoochosis’, which you might have noticed if you’ve seen them pacing back and forth.
  • Circus animals attack us out of fear when they escape — 23 humans have died because of big captive cats between 1990–2021. We forget that these animals are wild, and they’re not meant to stay chained. 
  • The circus chain big cats and torture them to show us tricks. They’re at the mercy of the handler, which usually includes a whip or electric prong. 

Along with big cats, circuses in the USA abuse bears and other wild animals.

5. Circuses Force Bears to Stand on Their Hind Legs or Face Strangulation. 

(Source: PETA2)

  • Circuses chain bears by the neck, forcing them to stand on their hind legs or be strangled. It’s a training technique to get them accustomed to doing tricks on two legs instead of on all fours.
  • Animals in circuses facts uncover that bears do some of the most unnatural tricks, like riding bikes and doing the tightrope. Unfortunately, to get them to this point, bears suffer immensely from starvation, as they’re only rewarded with food and beatings if they don’t do the trick correctly.
  • No matter how much the bears have trained, they’re in a constant state of anxiety. There are videos showing bears urinating during a performance — a sign of pure stress. 

But that’s not all. Entertainment industry animal abuse statistics show 75% of zoos violate rules on human and animal interactions. If that’s not enough, we found even more facts on circus animals and how their treatment can lead to tragedy.

Circus Accidents With Animals

By now, you know what the treatment of circus animals is like. But what happens when they fight back?

6. Between 1987–2019, Captive Elephants Killed 20 People.

(Source: PETA)

  • These elephants injured over 140 people, including trainers and innocent bystanders.
  • Since elephants can live for decades, many suffer beatings from birth that would kill a human. But when an animal has had enough, it will fight back. Since elephants are huge, they can cause horrendous damage to towns, roads, and people. 
  • On 25 May 2021, two circus tigers in China mauled and killed a handler. But they didn’t make it out alive after being shot by the police. 

The cycle of circus animals and mistreatment can sometimes lead to innocent people and animals getting caught in the crossfire.

How many circuses are there in the US?

There are 45 well-known circuses in the US, but we can’t get an exact number as there may be smaller and usually illegal operations throughout the US. 

What we do know is that there are over 300 exotic animals used in US circuses. While exotic animals are amazing to see, they are not made for captive life. 

Still, the exotic pet industry is worth over $15 billion a year. 

But there’s a glimmer of hope as organizations close down these circuses.

Circus Animal Rights

Pressure from animal rights groups saw some of the longest-standing circuses, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, close for good in 2017. Let’s have a look at what else is done to help the animals.

7. Bolivia Was the First Country to Ban Circus Animals in 2009.

(Source: Treehugger)

  • In 2019, the UK joined the list of 26 countries that ban the use of animals in the circus. 
  • Unfortunately, the US is falling far behind. The Animal Welfare Act covers these animals only at a minimal level. Plus, there are so many loopholes that little is done to stop the abuse.
  • But there are a few good facts about circus animals. Some local governments ban circuses that use animals, including Los Angeles, New York City, and Huntington Beach. 

You might feel helpless after reading all this, but there are still things you can do to help.

lioness in a age

What You Can Do To Help Circus Animals

Here are a few tips on how to help the circus animal ban and save these poor creatures from a life of torture and abuse:

  • Don’t go to any circus that uses live animals.
  • Sign petitions like PETA and Care2.
  • Educate those around you about what’s happening to circus animals.
  • If you have children, explain why you don’t support circuses with animals in a way they can understand. If kids knew what was going on, they wouldn’t want to go.
  • Go to an animal-friendly circus, like Circus Vargas, Circus Finelli, and New Shanghai Circus. 
  • If you know an animal trainer that uses inhumane methods, suggest an alternative like a humane dog training collar that won’t hurt the animals.

Final Thoughts on Circus Animals

It’s time to stop the detriment of animals in the entertainment industry.

Circus animals are abused, tortured, and mistreated from an early age. No matter how “humane” some circuses say they are, no wild animal should spend its life in a cage, performing tricks for humans’ amusement. 

Elephants, bears, lions, and tigers deserve the right to a free life in the wild, away from handlers’ abuse. And we shouldn’t overlook the animal cruelty in zoos, too.


Do circuses still have animals?

Unfortunately, yes. There are hundreds of circuses worldwide that can still legally use wild animals. The US has many. Although the pressure to close down all animal-driven circuses is rising, it’s still not enough to stop them. 

What countries still use animals in circuses in 2022?

There are 195 countries globally. And out of those, only 48 have total bans on circus animals. But some are on a per state or per town basis, so it can be tricky to get precise numbers. Still, countries like France, Germany, Spain, and Italy have no restrictions on circus animals as of 2022.

How many circuses are there?

There are around 45 well-known circuses still operating in the US. Plus, hundreds of schools teach and perform the same tricks that have brought so much joy over the last century. Internationally, there are well over 100 circuses. Some still use animals but others, like Circus Roncalli in Germany, are using technology to their advantage.

Are there circus animals in the UK?

In 2019, the UK government banned the use of wild animals in traveling circuses. Marking a great victory for animal activists in Europe. However, UK medical research kills over 3,000 monkeys a year for lab testing, so out of the tent and into the lab.

  1. World Animal Protection
  2. National Geographic 
  3. MSPCA–Angell
  4. PETA 
  5. PETA2
  6. PETA
  7. Treehugger
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