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Lukáš Novotný Jan Evangelista Purkyně University of Ústí nad Labem, Faculty of Arts, Institute of Political Science, Pasteurova 13, 40001, Ústí nad Labem, Czech Republic

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Abstract

The study examines the legislative issues associated with providing a legal solution to the problem of the circus training of wild animals in the post-communist context. These issues are demonstrated using the example of the Czech Republic. In 2020, the country passed a comprehensive amendment to Act No. 246/1992 Coll. on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty, which prohibits, among other things, the training of wild animals in circuses with effect from January 2022. The study focuses on the following research questions: What are the main determinants of the prohibition of wild animal training? and, What were the main arguments with respect to the wild animal training prohibition mentioned by politicians during the parliamentary debate? The data analysed here consist of parliamentary debates and texts presented by institutions advocating for or against the ban.

Abstract

The study examines the legislative issues associated with providing a legal solution to the problem of the circus training of wild animals in the post-communist context. These issues are demonstrated using the example of the Czech Republic. In 2020, the country passed a comprehensive amendment to Act No. 246/1992 Coll. on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty, which prohibits, among other things, the training of wild animals in circuses with effect from January 2022. The study focuses on the following research questions: What are the main determinants of the prohibition of wild animal training? and, What were the main arguments with respect to the wild animal training prohibition mentioned by politicians during the parliamentary debate? The data analysed here consist of parliamentary debates and texts presented by institutions advocating for or against the ban.

1 Introduction

While some clap, others shake their heads in disbelief, reflecting the increasing importance awarded the welfare of animals in modern society. Circuses and zoos have recently been under the spotlight as animal welfare scientists have stepped up their efforts to assess the way animals are treated under such conditions. 1 Not all circuses use animals in their exhibitions, but when they do, controversy and concern abound.

The wild animals used in circuses are tamed ones, not domesticated, and evidence in the literature demonstrates that circuses provide an unsuitable environment for the former. Circuses fail to meet some of the most basic social, spatial, and health standards required to satisfy the needs of wild animals in general. The animals' ability to engage in many natural behaviours is severely reduced, and moreover, they are obliged to engage in unnatural behaviour. This is directly and significantly detrimental to their wellbeing, health, and reproduction. As a result, there are now only a handful European countries without any restrictions on animal training and, more generally, concerning the existence of wild animals in circuses.

The prohibition of wild animals inside circus rings is one of the issues about which detailed information on different national policies is not readily available. In the present study, I focus on the Czech Republic, in which country some fundamental changes became law this year. They were enshrined in an amendment to Act no. 246/1992 Coll. on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty – arguably a major success for animal protection activism in the country. Among other things, the advocates pushed through a ban on battery cages and wild animal training in circuses. The latter prohibition was not foreseen in the version of the bill submitted to the legislature by the Czech Ministry of Agriculture. In fact, the government actively defended the circus industry. The ban was first included in the wording of the law after an opposition MP tabled an amendment between the second and third readings in the lower chamber of the parliament; moreover, the debate took place during lockdown, when only every other MP participated. Additionally, the fact that the general public was unable to attend committee discussions continues to be criticised by the circus lobby, which has been affected negatively by the amendment. Through its wild animal prohibition, the Czech Republic has joined a trend that has been apparent across Europe.

I will first outline the theoretical background, focusing on the concept of animal abuse as defined normatively in Czech and European law, forms of animal abuse in the circus industry, and the concept of contemporary circus, a new form of circus without the presentation of wild animals. Besides its primary legal perspective, this study also takes a political perspective by accentuating the analysis of parliamentary debate. When looking at Europe alone, it is hard to discern any clear geographical, cultural, or historical specificities of the group of countries that have legislated a full or partial prohibition of (wild) animals in the circus industry. Fifteen jurisdictions currently have such bans in place, while some other countries have adopted various forms of restriction. On January 1, 2022, the Czech Republic will join the club. It is on this country that the present study focuses. In the process of debating the law, intriguing arguments both for and against passing the bill occurred that are, in many ways, typical of contemporary discussions about whether it is right or wrong to prohibit or restrict animal training in the circus industry.

Designed as a single-case study, the article presents qualitative content analysis of both the legal text in question (the amendment to Act No. 246/1992 Coll.) and the parliamentary debates in both chambers of the Czech legislature. The research section is devoted to an examination of selected determinants of the passing of the prohibition of wild animal training, arguments mentioned by politicians during the parliamentary debate on the ban, and arguments with respect to the ban put forward by the circus lobby and critics of circus animal training. This is a highly topical issue given the complete lack of scholarly studies on the subject matter. Specifically, I look for answers to the following research questions:

What are the main determinants of the prohibition of wild animal training?

What were the main arguments for and against the prohibition of wild animal circus training put forward by politicians when debating the amendment to the Act on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty?

What were the main arguments for and against the prohibition of wild animal circus training mentioned by experts, the circus lobby, and advocacy groups in the context of debating the amendment to the Act on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty?

2 Theoretical background

Animal abuse is not as easily defined as, for instance, child abuse. 2 This is mainly because it considerably varies across time, place, culture, and country. 3 The situation is also complicated by the existence of activities that are harmful to animals but at the same time socially and culturally accepted (e.g., the scientific or industrial use of animals). According to a broadly accepted definition, animal abuse is ‘socially unacceptable behaviour that intentionally causes unnecessary pain, suffering, or distress and/or death of an animal’. 4 This excludes certain socially accepted forms of violence; namely, such that deviate from my central subject of investigation. Indeed, I aim exclusively at studying pathological and antisocial forms of behaviour. Thus, I view animal abuse as an umbrella term for human action which causes intended or negligent harm to animals, action detrimental to their health, living conditions, physiological well-being, ability to live a full life, etc. 5 As a ‘widespread phenomenon with serious implications for animal welfare, individual and societal well-being’, it is demonstrably associated with interpersonal violence and public health issues. 6

Circuses are exhibitions usually put on by exhibitors for profit and viewed by the public for entertainment. They provide amusement and display ‘[a]n array of clowns, acrobats, daredevils, and animals’. 7 Not all circuses use animals in their exhibitions, but when they do, controversy and concern abound. 8 ‘Many threats exist to both the circus-going public and the animals in circuses [,] including: wild animal escapes; mistreatment; the sale of circus animals to ‘canned hunt’ facilities and other unlawful animal trafficking; and more’. 9

Thus, the use of wild animal species in the circus industry is problematic at many levels. Over recent years, new perspectives have emerged (not only) in the post-communist region, driven especially by the opinions of a range of experts and advocacy groups. They have primarily sought to promote the view of animals as living beings that have value in and of themselves. 10 It should be noted that laws in the post-communist region and beyond treated animals as things until a few years ago. 11

This is why advocacy groups have promoted a ban on the operation of various travelling animal shows and terrariums, with no exception for the circus ring, and a ban on the training of all wild animals. They have also sought to outlaw the breeding and keeping of new-born animals of a range of wild animal species, with the exception of the former by zoological gardens. 12 This is in line with what is written in the preamble of the Czech Act on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty: ‘Animals, like humans, are living beings and are capable of experiencing various degrees of pain and suffering, and hence they deserve attention, care and protection by man’ 13 yet is not always consistent with the ways animals exist in circuses. 14 Above all, these animals should only be kept for the purpose of protecting species and their habitats. Many biologists and ethologists agree that training, performance, cramped accommodation, and travelling are all detrimental to animal welfare. Moreover, among the animals often subjected to training are predators (lions, tigers, bears) and elephants – i.e., highly intelligent species that tend to be stressed even in the context of well-equipped zoos. 15

It is in the very nature of the circus industry that it cannot provide adequate living conditions for these animals; they suffer from lack of space, constant moving, and neglect of their social needs. Circus performances may give patrons a biased perspective of the needs and natural behaviours of wild animal species. Breeding is also problematic because cubs end up in the hands of private breeders or in the infamous cub-petting operations in the Czech Republic or abroad. The use of animals by the circus industry has been criticised for, among other things, the practice of degrading animals to things and for their unnatural living conditions, their degrading treatment, and presentation as lower-level beings. 16

Critics have also decried the keeping of circus animals in inadequately sized cages, often not allowing them to hide from spectators or adverse external conditions. Some are kept without adequate food, warmth and shelter, or deprived of other essential needs. With this in mind, their training is pointless and unnatural. There is evidence of training practices that embrace physical or psychological violence. 17 Moreover, the typical living conditions of animals in travelling circuses are far from, and cannot even approximate, their natural needs.

In today's society, there should be no room for performances involving animals that are often stressed. Such performances should remain documented in popular fiction in stories of how travelling circuses with their bears, elephants, and tigers used to tour Europe. The circus should remain a place where spectators admire the trapeze artists' agility and laugh at clowns' performances. In modern terminology, this is referred to as contemporary or new circus. 18 This novel genre of circus performance 19 originates in 1970s France, where it came to be called le nouveau cirque. The artistic character of contemporary circus is based on a fusion of different arts (dance, music, theatre, visual arts, film) with circus performance. 20

3 Materials and methods

The issue of keeping animals in circuses is regulated at various levels. This study focuses on the Czech Republic as a case study country in the post-communist area, but let us also mention the international legal anchoring of this topic, especially international treaties. However, this group of sources is rather marginal for supplementing the issue of animal-keeping itself, and the essential document here is mainly so-called CITES, which is a number of international conventions that are designed to protect selected species of animals and plants by defining several conditions for their treatment. The specificity of this group of sources is their binding character based on Article 10 of the Constitution of the Czech Republic, where a properly carried out ratification process leads to their being part of the legal system of the Czech Republic, and in addition, that they have application priority in the event of a situation of non-compliance with national regulation (see also, for example, the Berne Convention of 19 September 1979, the Convention on the Conservation of European Wild Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) of 3 March 1973, in the Czech Republic published in the Collection of Laws under No. 572/1992 Coll. – particularly important are regularly updated annexes with lists of animals and the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, No. 19/2000 Coll.)

As mentioned earlier, the area of animal protection and, consequently, the legal regulation of animal-keeping in circuses is a rapidly developing legal sphere, so there is a significant interdependence between national and EU legislation. The most relevant legal sources for the keeping of animals in circuses at European level are Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1739/2005 of 21 October 2005 laying down animal health requirements for the movement of circus animals between Member States, Council Directive 1999/22/EC of 29 March 1999 on the keeping of wild animals in zoos and Council Regulation (EC) No. 1/2005 of 22 December 2004 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations and amending Directives 64/432/EEC and 93/119/EC and Regulation (EC) No. 1255/97.

The circus industry in the Czech Republic relies on a long tradition and has entered literature and film, showing how animals ‘enjoy’ their performances. The industry overcame (quite successfully) all the political regimes that existed in the Czech territory throughout the twentieth century. It is in this context that a part of the population views rather negatively the studies published recently by advocacy groups demonstrating the detrimental effects of animal training and frequent travelling on the psychological well-being of animals, along with the international trend of abandoning animal performances in the circus industry. Before 2021, the Czech Republic banned circus performances involving a few select species and classes of animals (Cetacea, pinnipeds, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, giraffes, and some other species). This is similar to the situation in other European countries (Denmark, Belgium, Finland and so on). Many other countries in Europe and the world have completely outlawed circus performances involving animals (Tables 1 and 2).

Table 1.

Prohibition of animals in the circus industry of the EU and selected third countries

General prohibition Cyprus, Greece, Malta
Prohibition of certain animal species Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine
No general prohibition France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Spain
No prohibition Albania, Belarus, Iceland, Macedonia, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom

Source: Stop Circus Suffering, Link11, author's elaboration, 1.10. 2021.

Table 2.

Main arguments for and against the prohibition of wild animal training mentioned in each house of the Czech legislature

Chamber of Deputies
Arguments in favour of prohibition Arguments against prohibition
My bill is not about banning animal performances in circuses, as it is often misinterpreted. It only means that new-born cubs, and only cubs of wild animal species, will no longer be subjected to circus training. I should also mention something many people don't realise, namely that all animals that are currently in circuses will remain there and will be able to continue to perform. […] Animal training, performances involving animals, or wild animal species, in circuses – that's not appropriate.

Deputy František Vácha (TOP 09), third reading, 16 September 2020
I don't think it's entirely fortunate to outlaw circus activity. The only appropriate way, in my opinion, is to modify the form of breeding, to say what kind of accommodation and what kind of living conditions the different animals need, rather than say ‘let's ban the industry, let's practically eliminate it’ because I don't find it appropriate. The right way is to monitor the living conditions of the different animals, and if those are met by someone, why ban their activity?

Deputy Petr Bendl (ODS), third reading, 16 September 2020
I support phasing out animal training in circuses. Let me emphasise the difference between training and exercise, […] exercise is something proper to the animal – and this, of course, only applies to wild animal species – as opposed to training, when the animal is supposed to do something that is not proper to it.

Deputy Jan Čižinský (KDU-ČSL), third reading, 16 September 2020
There is more emotion than reason to the debate. I don't think humans and animals compare. I don't know why domesticated animals should have different conditions than the so-called wild ones. Does that mean that a dog suffers less than a tiger? I don't fully understand. We don't want to get into a situation when we're passing laws to prohibit dogs from being leashed, castrated, etc.

Deputy Pavel Bělobrádek (KDU-ČSL), third reading, 16 September 2020
We now have the opportunity to end the use of the remaining wild animals for circus patrons' entertainment. A lion was not born to tour the whole country or beyond while caged, to enter the circus ring and perform the different numbers and tricks, to jump through a hoop. A bear wearing a miniskirt and riding a motorcycle perhaps isn't the natural environment for the species either. That's why I believe we should take the next step and join the club of countries that have been applying prohibition for a long time now.

Deputy Markéta Adamová-Pekarová (TOP 09), third reading, 16 September 2020
We support some restrictions on animals and their use by the circus industry. However, we should be careful not to cross a boundary, so we don't end up debating, in a few months or years from now, issues like the training of hunting, guide, or other service dogs.

Deputy Jana Krutáková (STAN), third reading, 16 September 2020
Senate
Arguments in favour of prohibition Arguments against the prohibition
I really don't think that the twenty-first century is a place [sic] for circus training, especially when it comes to large animals. In short, society is evolving. When looking at, for instance, what used to be a normal part of early twentieth-century circus programming, we might be surprised. But I completely understand the need to provide, legally speaking, for justified exceptions.

Senator Jan Drahoš (STAN), 1 November 2020
I'd be careful not to go too far. In the past, there was, so to speak, an educational function to the circus because people did not travel, could not visit exotic countries and there was no other place to view exotic animals. I mean, this function of the circus is now really obsolete and it is perhaps nothing to worry about. I wish to emphasise that this law definitely won't put an end to animal protection.

Senator Jiří Oberfalzer (STAN), 1 November 2020

There is an immense tradition to the circus in our country. […] But its world is obsolete – and also hard to understand and to accept. I favour the ban on circus presentation of predators, pachyderms and apes. I am sick of animals being made to perform unnatural acts only for patrons' entertainment or for proving all the things humans dare to do to dangerous animals. I am opposed to mocking and degrading the very personality of animals for mere human entertainment.

Senator Václav Chaloupek (STAN), 1 November 2020
It is completely irrelevant whether it's the circus, large parrots in the pet shop, or the film industry. Instead of coming up with licensing conditions, perhaps even really strict ones, with certification and compliance checks, we are coming up with a crude, artless kind of prohibition. That is indeed not how a reasonable society can proceed.

Senator Zdeněk Nytra (STAN), 1 November 2020
When I see the circus in the movies or when I recall my childhood, it feels romantic. It is, by all means, a part of the history of human culture: the circus art, by which I mean not only the trapeze artists but, really, animal training, too. Yet the latter doesn't belong to the twenty-first century. There is no place for animal training in the twenty-first century.

Senator Přemysl Rabas (Greens/STAN), 1 November 2020
As for the circus industry, we engaged in a relatively broad-based negotiation with the industry, with experts, with the Animal Protection Central Committee, with others, etc. The outcome was that there would be licenses, subject to compliance checks, the same would apply to animal trainers and to filmmakers, they'd be licensed, and violations would result in losing one's licence, end of story. Unfortunately, it didn't work out, we weren't successful, hence we're where we are now.

Minister Miroslav Toman (ČSSD), 1 November 2020

Source: author's elaboration.

As far as the legislation adopted in various European countries regarding dressage in circuses is concerned, the trend is to reflect the unsuitability of circuses for pedagogical and educational purposes. Rather, the fact that circuses can have a negative impact on children's relationship with animals, both inside and outside circuses, is promoted in legislation in the form of bans. This is due to the nature of the circus and the encouragement of positive reactions (laughter, joy, happiness) when watching creatures performing extremely unnatural acts associated with their discomfort, fear and, last but not least, punishment in the case of undesirable reactions. However, the legislation also takes account of the interests of circuses in the sense that dressage bans are introduced gradually so that the impact on the operation of circuses is proportionate and changes are gradual.

There is evidence of cases, even in the Czech Republic, of circus animals attacking both patrons and staff. 21 Moreover, some testimonies suggest the involvement of Czech circus professionals in organised trafficking in the dead bodies of protected animal species. For example, a member of the famous Czech circus dynasty Berousek was charged with breeding and killing tigers and trafficking their dead bodies, which were exported to the Asian market by organised groups from the Vietnamese community. 22 An elephant was washed in a car wash using detergents intended for cars – completely inadequate treatment for sensitive elephant skin. 23

Laws to protect animals against cruelty seek to protect all animals under various conditions and regulate activities related to people keeping animals. 24 In the Czech legal system, animal protection is enshrined in several laws, including provisions on animal handling and the protection of animal welfare and health (the Veterinary Act, the Feedingstuffs Act, the Hunting Act, etc.)

The key law, Act No. 246/1992 Coll., on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty, as amended, provides both general and more specific requirements for animal breeding or keeping and the performance of various activities involving animals, whether farm, companion, laboratory, zoo or circus animals. The law requires all persons in the Czech Republic to protect animals from cruelty and prohibits all forms of the promotion of cruelty to animals. Last year's amendment to the law prohibited the training of wild animals in the circus industry and provided the historically first definition of puppy mills (alongside the official prohibition thereof). Furthermore, with effect from 1 January 2022, it has been prohibited to breed wild animal species or import such species from abroad.

In 2020, another important amendment was passed, changing the Penal Code to considerably toughen the sentencing guidelines for animal abuse. The breeding of animals in inadequate conditions is now punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years. The tougher sentencing guidelines will allow judges to impose unsuspended prison sentences in the most brutal cases. Conditional stay of criminal prosecution will no longer be possible. For the gravest forms of organised crime, the police are now able to deploy wiretaps, and house search warrants are easier to issue.

The above amendment to the Act on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty also covers wild animal species in the circus industry. Thus, from 1 January 2022 breeding and import practices will be discontinued and the training of new cubs prohibited. One of the successfully adopted provisions protects the new-born animals of some wild animal species (primates, pinnipeds, Cetacea excluding the Delphinidae family, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and giraffes) against use in circuses. The prohibition itself was debated for several years in the Czech context, including a mid-October 2018 discussion at a Ministry of Agriculture working group. 25

The amendment to Act No. 246/1992 on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty was required to transpose EP and Council Directive No. 2010/63/EU of 22 September 2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. The key amendment, alongside many other members' bills to amend the amendment, was introduced during the second reading on 3 June and 16 September 2020. Authored by MP František Vácha of the opposition party TOP 09, it sought to prohibit the training of all new-born animals of wild animal species, and was passed. In contrast, the law in its original wording only prohibited the training of animals of some wild animal species born after 2004, namely primates, pinnipeds, Cetacea (excluding the Delphinidae family), rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and giraffes. 26

The prohibition of circus training was in line with the majority public opinion in Czech society. A September 2018 representative opinion poll by FOCUS Marketing & Social Research demonstrated that 39 percent of Czechs believed the Act on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty should prohibit the use of wild animals and 35 percent thought the Act should prohibit the use of all animals in the circus industry. Twelve percent of Czechs believed that no such tougher regulation of circus animals should be passed. 27

The case study is a traditional qualitative research method. It is used abundantly in all human sciences, especially in medicine, economics, management studies, the law and humanities. It is applicable not only for theory building in the different disciplines but for practical uses outside the realm of theory and science. 28 In spite of this, the research method is frequently underestimated. Qualitative research relies on interpretive paradigms and, as such, it primarily seeks to understand social situations about which inferences can be made based on studies.

The present study, too, investigates a case – a single legal norm: the amendment to Act No. 246/1992 prohibiting circus training from the year 2022. As a purely qualitative method, the case study is well-suited to meeting the goals of qualitative research. 29 I explore the legal aspects of the prohibition and the arguments for and against it mentioned during the parliamentary debates in both houses of the Czech legislature; namely, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

The Czech Republic was selected for the case study because it represents the most recent country to institute such a ban. Based on content analysis of especially the parliamentary debates but also other arguments raised in favour of and against passing the ban, I demonstrate some specific points of both parties' positions. I focus on verbatim transcriptions of debates in both chambers of the Czech parliament as part of a broader discourse. Here, I employ an interpretive approach that requires intensive and detailed effort by the student, being capable of disassembling the content into its constituent parts and subsequently assembling it into wholes that are more coherent.

The law in question is represented by an extensive amendment to Act No. 246/1992 Coll., on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty. Among the main goals of the original amendment were to increase the level of protection against animal abuse by a series of more-or-less fundamental changes, to fix the transposition of Directive No. 2010/63/EU [69] and adopt related changes to the protection of laboratory animals, to adapt to the Official Controls Regulation (Directive 2010/63/EU), to change the provisions on the reimbursement of the costs of preliminary foster care or special measures, and to adopt more detailed provisions on preliminary foster care, special measures, and forfeiture of an abused animal. It was tabled by the Czech government in the Chamber of Deputies on 17 June 2019. The first reading took place on 6 December 2019. In the course of the second reading on 3 June 2020, a number of members' bills aimed at amending the amendment were introduced. On 19 June 2020, the third reading commenced but the debate on the bill was suspended. It continued at the fifty-eighth plenary meeting on 16 September 2020. It is the third reading that the analysis primarily focuses on because this provided a forum for all the members' bills that received intense media coverage; namely, the prohibition of circus animal training and of battery cages. The Senate debated the bill on 1 November 2020.

4 Results

In this section, I summarise the basic determinants that influenced the process of legislating the prohibition of wild animal circus training as they emerged from the arguments for and against the ban frequently mentioned in the public space.

The first determinant is a cultural-historical one. Proponents of animal training, including members of parliament, claimed repeatedly that the Czech circus has a ‘great tradition. The families of circus artists have their histories dating back as far as the nineteenth century’. 30 It can be added that in the mid-nineteenth century the Beránek family operated the largest circus business in Central Europe. In the first half of the twentieth century, travelling ensembles were the prevalent form in the Czech lands. The circus enjoyed a revival under the communist regime in the 1950s, when circus operations were merged into the new government-owned company, Czechoslovak Circuses. The goal then was to provide the working class with good and joyful entertainment after work that was in the spirit of communism, as was also demonstrated by collaboration with the Soviet circus generation. The industry has survived until the present day, although with fewer circuses. The context of circus activities has also changed, with a shrinking supply of places for their performance and local petitions emerging against their presence (Regulation (EU) 2017/625).

Public opinion represents the second determinant. In addition to the above petitions and other civic activities against, but also in favour of, circus activities involving animals, there is data from a representative opinion poll of 2018. According to the Focus agency, 70 percent of 1,012 respondents disapproved of the training of wild animals and 74 percent were opposed to the presentation of all animals in circuses 31 Also in 2018, an online survey of 9,000 respondents by the Ministry of the Environment confirmed the same majority opinion.

Legislation is the third determinant. The Ministry of Agriculture, as the responsible authority, clearly did not seek such a prohibition. Yet by tabling an amendment to Act No. 246/1992 Coll. to transpose EU directives, the ministry opened a window of opportunity for members' bills. The ban on animal training became one of them, even though an expert working group on the topic convened by the ministry in 2018 had not recommended the prohibition.

My content analysis of the political debates in the lower house of the Czech legislature, the Chamber of Deputies, focuses exclusively on the third reading of 16 September 2020. As mentioned above, the original government bill did not provide for animal training prohibition. A total of eight members explicitly spoke on the topic in the parliamentary debate. The minority government coalition was represented by only one of them (Josef Kott of ANO 2011) and oppositional parties were represented by the others (TOP 09 by three, KDU-ČSL by two, and ODS and STAN each by one). The bill was criticised by the ODS, whose agriculture expert Petr Bendl supported only modifying the conditions of breeding/keeping and improving checks, not prohibition. MP Pavel Bělobrádek (KDU-ČSL) also called for avoiding outright prohibition. He questioned why the proposed ban only covered wild animals and argued that the debate was being shaped by ‘more emotion than reason’. MP Jana Krutáková (STAN) spoke in a similar vein.

Proponents of the prohibition pointed to the fact that it was not general in coverage and noted that merely ‘new-born cubs, and only cubs of wild animal species, will no longer be subjected to circus training’ (MP Vácha, verbatim transcription). While MP Josef Kott of the government party ANO 2011 agreed with the proposed prohibition, he mentioned that he had helped modify MP Vácha's original bill to ‘only’ cover the training of new-born cubs of wild animal species instead of a general prohibition.

4.1 Prohibition of wild animal training: lobbying activities and arguments raised by the circus lobby and its critics

Different advocacy and lobbying activities were undertaken throughout the parliamentary debate on Act No. 246/1992 Coll., on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty. The arguments in favour of and against the prohibition are summarised in the table below. They originate from the #nicneskryvame [We Are not Hiding Anything] petition by the Circuses Initiative and from letters and public presentations by directors of Czech circuses, especially Humberto (Open letter, 2020). 32 Members of parliament received short videos about the life of animals in the circus industry, which were also posted on social media. Furthermore, the circus industry promoted some of its PR activities, including the fact that all training sessions were publicly accessible, the availability of guided tours involving veterinarians and ethologists, and a public challenge to spend one working day with a circus.

The campaign to outlaw animal training in the circus industry was initiated by the NGO Svoboda zvířat [Animal Liberation] under the title Circuses without Animals. 33 Its emotional appeal included detailed shots of stressed animals and a call on people to ‘help us change the world for animals’. Arguing that ‘animals are being exploited, abused by the circus industry for the sole purpose of making money and cheap entertainment’, the campaign was joined by outstanding experts and celebrities.

The prohibition was also supported by the little-known Czech Association of Veterinary Doctors of Wild and Zoo Animals in position in early 2020 that called on lawmakers to pass the ban. The circus lobby attempted to respond by presenting evidence, especially from international studies, disproving the fact of degrading treatment of animals in the context of circus training. The publications of Animal Liberation appeared much more professional in their text and design, while the circus lobby seemed to proceed in a rather reactive fashion.

5 Discussion

In the original version of the amendment to the Act on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty, the Ministry of Agriculture did not seek to prohibit the training of wild animal species in the Czech circus industry. Moreover, the amendment was debated in the context of a national lockdown when only every other member attended the Chamber of Deputies session. The proponents of prohibition from the ranks of experts and advocacy organisations took advantage of that constellation and, by means of opposition MP František Vácha (TOP 09), successfully included the ban in the wording of the law. Although it will take effect from 2022 onwards and only new-born cubs will be spared from training over the years to come, this is a landmark amendment that is going to strongly shape the programming of Czech circuses.

What I find problematic, given how swiftly the amendment was passed, is that the circus industry was not given any time to prepare for the change. The legislative process, too, somewhat deviated from the standard and was characterised by a lack of planning. Comments from relevant government authorities were not gathered and processed as usual, and the circus industry itself was not sensitised to the impending change. It is hard to tell whether this was the only way of legislating the ban, given the negative position of the Ministry of Agriculture. Recall that an expert working group convened by the ministry in 2018 had not recommended prohibition. It remains to be seen how the tension that has already emerged in the circus industry as a result of the ban will evolve. There is a relatively rich circus tradition in the Czech Republic. The amendment has brought the status of circus animals to the fore of the country's political and legal debate.

6 Conclusion

What are the main determinants of the prohibition of wild animal training?

The determinants that emerged in the different public and political forums and eventually led to the passing of the prohibition include public opinion and the circus tradition. The history and tradition of the circus industry was the reason why the ban was not supported by the responsible government authority, the Ministry of Agriculture. After all, the phased-in nature of the ban can also be attributed to the Czech circus tradition. However, opinion polls have demonstrated that the majority of Czechs supported the prohibition. While the legislative process itself was accompanied by petitions of both those in favour of and against the ban, other public reactions were calm and the proposal was not met with protest.

What were the main arguments for and against the prohibition of wild animal circus training mentioned by politicians when debating the amendment to the Act on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty?

The prohibition was criticised by the right-wing opposition (ODS and KDU-ČSL). Its deputies and senators argued for effective oversight and a licensing system instead of prohibition. In contrast, the ban was supported by the rest of the political spectrum, including the dominant and ruling ANO 2011, albeit it only covered new-born cubs and the effective implementation date was deferred to 2022. The proponents presented research evidence concerning the inhumane nature of animal training and argued that twenty-first-century circuses must change and can no longer showcase animals for their patrons' entertainment. This was practically the only line of argument that permeated the political discussions around the legislative process.

What were the main arguments for and against the prohibition of wild animal circus training mentioned by experts, the circus lobby, and advocacy groups in the context of debating the amendment to the Act on the Protection of Animals Against Cruelty?

A much wider array of arguments were mentioned by the circus lobby, advocates, and experts. Those against the prohibition primarily decried the fact of debating the amendment during a COVID-19 lockdown, with stakeholders being excluded from the debate. The circus lobby interpreted the ban as an inadequate and ineffective intervention into their business. As for animal training, the latter claimed that no training was taking place, their animals were not being coerced, and instead forms of positive reinforcement was being applied. The proponents of prohibition argued that pre-existing circuses were failing to satisfy the biological needs of their animals and that animals were being exploited, ridiculed, and abused by the circus industry for the sole purpose of revenue and cheap entertainment. They contextualised the ban as part of a broader trend sweeping Europe.

The arguments of both parties were supported by campaigns and petitions. As a result, the Czech Republic joined the club of European countries that are putting an end to the training of new-born cubs of wild animal species.

Acnowledgement

This study was prepared under a grant project supported from the funds for institutional research of the Faculty of Arts, Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem for the year 2022.

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Links:

  • Arkow, P. , ‘The impact of companion animals on social capital and community violence: Setting research, policy and program agendas’ (2013) 4 Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 3356.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ascione, F. R. , ‘Children Who Are Cruel to Animals: A Review of Research and Implications for Developmental Psychopathology’ (1993) 4 Anthrozoos 22647.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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  • Lucia, S. and Killias, M. , ‘Is Animal Cruelty a Marker of Interpersonal Violence and Delinquency? Results of a Swiss National Self-Report Study’ (2011) 1 Psychology of Violence 93105.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
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