It is a calm and rainy afternoon when I arrived at the circus ground in Tallaght on Friday, two weeks ago. Two hours before the next scheduled show the carpark is empty, except a Garda car parked on the side. The guards stated they are ready to show some presence, like any other day since the circus arrived in Tallaght last month, in order to prevent more escalations between the protesters and the circus staff.
Unscheduled, with only the knowledge of Facebook posts of witnesses and online articles in mind, I approached Nadia Scholl, a staff member of the circus, who I spotted while making my way round the area. Trying to get the circus’s side of the story, Nadia invited me in, to talk about the recent incidents and the accusations of treating their animals poorly. This not the first time the she has spoken to the media, RTÉ Radio 1’s Joe Duffy interviewed her to get an official statement, following the arrest of seven protesters two weeks ago, when a demo turned violent.
The Belly-Wien Circus
The Belly-Wien Circus, originally from Germany, left the Netherlands to start their tour in Ireland, which will continue throughout November. Despite the false accusations the circus was banned from the Netherlands, Nadia explained new Danish laws, which don’t allow exotic animals to perform in circuses, caused them to leave and tour somewhere else. As she’s been to Ireland before and fell in love with the country and its people, the family circus, which is in a joint venture with Rentz International Circus, decided to tour the Island. Little did they know how much trouble they would find.
Treatment of Animals
While strolling around the area, that currently holds over 75 animals, the size of the stalls and boxes were surprising and to some extend similar to the space given in local zoos (Of course, I am no expert, but that’s the impression I got). The circus claims all the boxes and stalls are over the EU norm. There is a vet coming to every city they tour in and according to the staff, the animals experience the best equipment there currently is on the market, they even go as far and consider themselves “the best travelling circus in Europe“.
When asked about the origin of their three elephants, it was explained, that they have been with the circus for over 45 years now. The demand of the protestors to give up their animals and send them back to their natural habitant, stated Nadia as outrageous: “they wouldn’t even survive, they would die within days, they don’t know anything else“.
The large amount of protests, have indeed affected the tickets sales, but the circus said they willcontinue and keep entertaining families, as this is their job and they want to continue the family legacy.
Protestors & Animal Rights Organisations speak out
Since the circus’s arrival in Ireland, the protesters have set up a Facebook page titled “Stop the Belly Wien Animal Circus“ which gained nearly 3000 followers over the last few weeks. Talking to one of the protesters outside the circus, the Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN) activist explained, why they fight for the ban of animals in Irish circuses: “we are here because some of these elephants are showing signs of stress disorder, they need to feel order and pain to be submissive, just keeping them in captivity is animal abuse“.
Fine Gael’s Minister for Agriculture, Food & the Marine, Simon Coveney, issued a statement that: “circuses are free to regulate themselves“ which is one of the main reasons “why Ireland is a haven for animal abusing circuses“ the activist explains. The protesters claim the immediate stop of fundings by the Irish Arts Council and an outright ban of animal circuses.
The Irish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA), criticised the conditions the animals are kept in while on tour and issued a statement, speaking out against the use of wild animals in circuses, as part of their “The Big Stop“ campaign.
“These elephants are currently touring Ireland with a travelling circus, transported around the country in cramped and barren ‘beast wagons.’ Elephants in circuses are normally chained by one or more legs during transport, and often overnight,” the organisation said. “The unnatural movements of the elephants, standing on hind legs, for example, also places potentially dangerous strain on joints and muscles and thus risks long-term damage,” the ISPCA commented.
Violence and One Word Against Another
The day before the first show in Tallaght started, 25 protesters tried to unlawfully enter the circus ground. According to Nadia, nearly everyone was out advertising the upcoming show, when the masked protesters attacked the staff with pepper spray, including her two young children, which one suffered an eye infection afterwards. The staff themselves tried to keep the protesters from entering, using brooms and other cleaning utilities.
“The circus is used to protesters but something like this is even new to us. The guards had to stop the protestors from blocking the streets around the circus ground, as they tried to prevent visitors from entering the show“ Nadia said. „Don’t get me wrong, she continued, I am an animal rights activist myself, even if they [the protesters] wouldn’t understand.“ She refers to the black sheep in the circus business, who exploit their animals, causing a bad image for all other circuses.
The activists on the other hand, described the incident as shocking and were surprised that the staff attacked them, after they responded to the circus’s open invitation to check on the animal’s welfare. It’s the circus’s word against the activist’s word.
But this is not the first attack the circus has experienced since travelling the country. In Gorey, Co. Wexford, an animal rights activist entered the area and tried to set one of their stalls on fire, while shouting: “better dead than in a circus.“ Luckily, the guards were present and the man was later arrested and taken in for questioning.
Current Irish Law
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, introduced the animal health and welfare act in 2013. The act regulates matters such as the transport and movement of animals as well as regulations such as the sales and breeding, but no word on animal circuses. There are no official Irish laws when it comes to the usage of animals for entertainment purposes, all there is are EU regulations or specific laws made by countries, therefore animal circuses are free to regulate themselves. Countries such as the Netherlands and Austria, banned exotic animals from shows, but circuses are free to travel through the country. Travelling circuses are able to receive funding by the Arts Council Ireland.
Last week, the Stop the Belly Wien Animal Circus – Facebook page announced, that the circus is going to end their Ireland tour early and will continue touring in France.