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Circuses and The Law

Though some laws are in place that are supposed to protect circus animals, what few laws exist are vague and poorly enforced.

The federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was adopted in 1969 to ensure the humane care and treatment of warm-blooded animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. Individuals or entities licensed under the AWA must provide their animals with certain standards of care and treatment in the areas of housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather and temperatures. These standards, however, are minimal and don't adequately protect exhibited animals from mistreatment, neglect, improper handling and training, and other problems associated with the circus.

Enforcement of welfare standards is also a problem. Through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the agency with the authority to enforce the law. Under APHIS, fewer than 100 inspectors are responsible for monitoring conditions at approximately 12,000 facilities — 2,600 of which are licensed exhibitors displaying exotic animals to the public. Most circuses, therefore, are subject only to infrequent inspections.

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Born Free USA actively writes and introduces legislation in states that do not currently have any prohibitions on circuses and traveling shows, roadside menageries, and the private possession of captive wild animals as "pets." We also work with cities to pass ordinances in these areas. We have model legislation and ordinances to help captive wild animals in all areas. Please contact us if you are interested in working to pass legislation banning circuses in your community.

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For a full report about what you can do to help circus animals through legislation and other efforts, see Organizing a Campaign to Help Captive Wildlife.

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