Animal rights group PETA has won a case against Germany's biggest circus. Although a court upheld Circus Krone's claim that a PETA video violated the circus's property right, the video can continue to be shown.
PETA wants wild animals out of circuses
A court in Hamburg has ruled that a video documentary made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) depicting conditions of circus animals in the German Circus Krone can continue to be distributed.
Circus Krone, which calls itself the biggest circus in Europe, had accused PETA of violating its property rights by ignoring the circus's photography ban. The court upheld this claim, but also ruled that freedom of opinion meant Circus Krone could not claim a court order to keep PETA from continuing to distribute the video for political purposes. PETA was, however, ordered by the court to removed scenes from the video that suggested Circus Krone used whips and devices that delivered electric shocks to animals.
The video was shown on German public television in 2008 and helped kick off a PETA campaign calling for a ban on wild animals in the circus.
In the video, PETA shows scenes of animals during performances, backstage, and in Circus Krone's winter camp, which is open to the public as a zoo. Parts of the footage were shot using a hidden camera.
The video shows circus animals 'back stage'
PETA claims the video shows animals displaying clear signs of behavioral disorders due to being kept in unsuitable conditions in captivity. In some shots of Circus Krone's elephants, the animals can be seen constantly swaying back and forth with their heads.
"They are also suffering from arthritis and joint disorders," said Dr. Edmund Haferbeck, a scientific advisor to PETA. "This has all been clearly documented by the authorities."
In Munich, where Circus Krone has its headquarters, separate investigations are underway by the district attorney into allegations of violations of animal protection laws.
Europe 's 'biggest circus'
PETA has targeted Circus Krone as part of its campaign against wild animals in circuses because, according to their website, "if such behavioral problems among animals can be proven in Germany's biggest circus, it's hard to imagine what some of the smaller circuses must be doing."
But the fact that PETA has specifically targeted the self-proclaimed largest circus in Europe is a bit suspicious to Arie Oudenes, director of the European Circus Association (ECA) in the Netherlands.
The ECA thinks Krone treats its animals fine
"PETA has targeted an important circus in Germany to see if they can find things wrong and use it as an example instead of attacking all the other circuses," Oudenes said. "It's a pity, because when you see the way Circus Krone takes care of its their animals with its large staff of well qualified animal trainers … it's unbelievable."
The ECA requires possession of necessary documents and permits relating to animals and compliance to the Association's in-house code of conduct as prerequisites for membership. Circus Krone is a member of the ECA's Advisory Board, a distinction given to members who contribute to the ECA's work.
Question of jurisdiction
When animal rights complaints are brought to the ECA against circuses, the cases are generally referred back to national authorities. Oudenes points out that in Germany, checks are conducted in each city a circus visits to ensure all national animal protection laws are being enforced. But PETA's Haferbeck says this isn't the tightest form of control.
"In Germany, we have such a lack of enforcement when it comes to animal rights and animal protection," he said, "that any reference to our veterinary authorities doesn't hold much water."
National animal protection laws are enforced at the state level. While every state is a little different, in general when it comes to checking compliance of circuses, the responsibility is passed on to veterinary authorities at the city and county level.
"If there is an animal rights complaint, it would be taken to the local authorities," said Rico Schmidt, press spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Consumer Protection in the city-state of Hamburg. "The problem is, the circus has already left and moved on, it might be in a different jurisdiction. Then it becomes hard to follow these cases."
"It would make sense to have some sort of a central registry to keep track of these kind of things."
Implementing such a system would be up to the national government, and Schmidt says Hamburg would like a central registry to exist. But unless a wider-reaching form of control is put into place, checks on whether circuses traveling in Germany comply with animal protection laws will remain a matter for local veterinary authorities.
Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Rob Turner