A conflict in Nice has highlighted the legal grey area which allows travelling circuses to continue using wild animals as part of their shows.
The Zavatta circus moved on to Menton after a heated exchange with Nice mayor Christian Estrosi, who refused to accept the circus in the city.
A national ban on circuses with animals is due to take effect in 2028, but a number of communes have issued decrees imposing a local ban, which is illegal without a valid reason, such as a lack of space.
Muriel Arnal, head of animal rights association One Voice, said such decrees have become less common, due partly to the many legal challenges, but also to falling demand.
Circuses with animals no longer popular
“As much as the French legislation has not evolved at all, audiences have deserted circuses with animals,” she said.
“When we launched our campaign in 1999, there were more than 200. Today, there are 50.”
In that time, the number of elephants in circuses fell from 40 to just one.
A 2011 law set out strict rules around how animals could be kept, but Ms Arnal said prefectures refuse to remove animals when rules are broken.
“We saw we could not count on French authorities, which let all sorts of infractions pass – 90% of circuses [with animals] operate in total illegality.”
One Voice has frequently denounced the Zavatta circus, claiming its hippopotamus, Jumbo, is only let out of its truck for 30 minutes per day.
In 2020, a court in Valence cleared the circus owners of ‘mistreatment’, and ruled that they could keep Jumbo, but ordered them to pay a fine for ‘keeping a wild animal captive in an environment which could cause suffering’.