Wild and endangered animals forced to perform in circuses: new report

15 April 2022

Animals Asia investigators have uncovered the use and abuse of hundreds of animals – including endangered species – at captive animal premises such as circuses and amusement parks across Vietnam.

Our latest Circus Report reveals that animals including Asiatic black bears (moon bears) Asian elephants, gibbons, and Siamese crocodiles are being housed in poor conditions, showing stress-related abnormal behaviours, and are dying at these venues.

Vietnamese law states that using endangered animals should not have a negative effect on the conservation of their species in nature, but our investigators discovered that many of the bears used in circus performances were taken from the wild. 

The report emphasizes that these facilities are also a threat to global wildlife, and while the origin of many circus animals is mostly undocumented, wildlife trafficking is another major concern.

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Harsh, unnatural and stressful conditions

The animals our investigators observed at these venues were forced to perform unnatural tricks in stressful situations; some arerepeatedly exposed to extremely loud music and bright, flashing lights. Many of the animals had injuries, were dangerously underweight, showing signs of self-harm, and clearly terrified of their ‘trainers’, cowering and shaking when they approached.  

Dominance, physical abuse or punishments such as withholding of food are used by the animal handlers to assert authority over the animals and coerce them into doing tricks. Our reporters witnessed elephants, macaques, bears and crocodiles being hit, kicked and dragged around by ropes through their noses or by their necks.

When not ‘performing’ the animals are held in small cages with no natural features, enrichment or access to freshwater. Some spend extensive periods of time living in solitary confinement, only being released for training and performances.

“It’s so sad to see how people exploit and abuse these animals,”an undercover investigator who visited these facilities and witnessed the cruelty in person, said. “They are highly social, intelligent animals, but are kept in isolation and unhygienic conditions. Their suffering is unnecessary - humans have a wide variety of entertainment that does not need to involve animals.”

A call to end the unnecessary suffering of wild animals

On a positive note, steps have been taken by the Vietnamese authorities and the management of these facilities since our last circus report in 2017. While 16 circus shows have stopped using animals in their shows altogether, seven circus shows ended the use of some species in recent years. From mid-2018 onwards some circuses have gradually replaced wild animals with domesticated species, including cats, pigs, buffaloes, and horses. 

Vietnamese society and the Vietnamese government have made great strides in recent years to protect animals from suffering. But while the remaining facilities continue to profit from the mistreatment of animals in the name of entertainment, Animals Asia calls on the Vietnamese public, authorities and facility owners to strengthen their commitment to ending the use and abuse of wild animal species in circus shows.

Read more:

Animals Asia rescues two bear cubs from Hanoi Circus

Monkey Circus closes after Animals Asia campaign