Fossett’s to seek protection of domestic animals in circuses

Request to protect ‘unique’ circus entertainment follows ban on wild animals

Fossetts Circus in the RDS. Photograph: Frank Miller / The Irish Times

Fossetts Circus in the RDS. Photograph: Frank Miller / The Irish Times


Fossett’s Circus is to seek a guarantee from Government that domestic animals will be safeguarded in Irish circuses to preserve the “uniqueness” of big top entertainment.

While not opposed to a ban on wild animals coming into force from January - Fossetts has not had any since 2005 - it said there are now concerns over the future of horses and dogs, whose removal would irreparably damage the industry.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed announced on Thursday wild animals, such as elephants and tigers, could no longer be permitted.

Although welcomed by animal welfare campaigners, Fossett’s said the move was a “blunt instrument” vilifying and catching the industry off-guard. It will seek an amendment to the law next week.

Charles O’Brien, its marketing manager, said Fossett’s was in agreement with the attitudinal shift toward the ban of exotic animals but what remains must be protected for the sake of a generations-old industry.

“We want to safeguard what makes circuses unique: the presentation of animals. Without horses and dogs we are [JUST]theatre,” he told The Irish Times, adding that animals were treated very well.

“The primary fear would be that once the dust settles on [JANUARY’S BAN]it will move to domestic animals.”

He said Fossett’s shared in the “national sensitivity” toward wild animal displays that had emerged in more recent times.

“Everything has changed - both within the industry and the public’s perception, the writing was on the wall.”

However, the circus was disappointed at the unexpected announcement, Mr O’Brien said, adding it had been in talks with Department of Agriculture officials for a number of years, and as recently as last July, seeking the introduction of broad animal welfare regulations.

World’s oldest circus

For about the last 30 years, Irish circuses have leased animals as ownership proved too expensive for tours generally confined to summer months. Mr O’Brien said circuses had been selectively targeted for their ban while other Irish entertainment industries, such as film and television production, could continue to use them.

At 130 years old next year, Fossett’s says it is the world’s oldest continuously touring circus (others in France and Italy were forced to stop during the war, while another in Mexico recently closed down).

“We are very proud of our industry. We see it as a lifestyle and an art form,” said Mr O’Brien.

Ireland too, he added, was the first country in Europe to officially recognise the circus as a pillar art form.

However, despite the tremors caused by Mr Creed’s ban, Fossett’s does not believe the days when the big top arrives in Irish towns is under existential threat.

“We have future generations coming along,” he said. “Circuses survived way back when black and white movies came out. There were front page articles that the circus was finished.”