Switzerland’s national circus is starting its annual tour on Friday under a cloud of criticism from animal welfare groups.
Swiss Animal Protection (SAP) says Circus Knie is failing to respect the basic needs of its wild animals during winter months.
Circus Knie, Switzerland’s biggest and best-known circus, is among several circuses and entertainers criticised in a report by SAP, the umbrella organisation for Swiss animal welfare groups.
The organisation says many circuses are guilty of neglecting the needs of their wild animals, such as tigers, lions and elephants, during the winter by keeping them in cramped indoor spaces.
“It’s not possible to keep wild or exotic animals in circuses because their life in captivity is absolutely intolerable… and unethical in our eyes,” Hans Lienhard, SAP’s president, told swissinfo.
“All animals which are used to big spaces and which cover huge distances in their natural environment shouldn’t be confined to a few square metres.”
The organisation has launched a parliamentary initiative calling for a ban on the import of wild animals whose needs cannot be met in Switzerland. The initiative is due to be debated in parliament later this year.
Nothing to hide
The study singles out Circus Knie’s eleven elephants, which are allegedly kept chained up in small stables from the end of their working day at 4.30pm until the next morning.
The animals – including a four-year old baby elephant – are not fed adequately and are not free to play or bathe, according to the report.
The Rapperswil-based circus, which starts its annual tour on Friday, has vigorously disputed the findings.
The circus’s animal trainer, Franco Knie, was unavailable for comment when contacted by swissinfo, but told the Swiss tabloid, “Blick”: “We treat our  animals very well and we have nothing to hide.
“It’s true that our winter stables are nearly 50 years old… but we’ve renovated them and we are planning a major renovation in the coming years.”
Although the study has ruffled feathers within the Swiss circus scene, SAP says it does not want circuses to keep animals out of the arena altogether.
“We don’t have a problem with dogs, geese, monkeys or goats, which can be kept outside in winter and which can have a decent life in a circus,” said Lienhard.
The report praised Circus Monti, one of Switzerland’s newer travelling companies, for not training wild or exotic animals.
“We’ve never found it necessary to use wild animals, as we try to come up with a mix of theatrical and circus acts,” said Nicolas Muntwyeler, Monti’s animal trainer.
“The question here is not just what types of animals are trained, but also how they are treated by their trainers and how hard they have to work.”
The animal welfare group also draws a distinction between zoos and circuses.
“Most zoos offer much more space for their wild animals,” explained Lienhard.
“Zoos have come to realise that they can no longer keep these creatures in captivity, so they don’t breed them anymore. In a few years’ time, most of them will no longer have these kinds of animals.”
swissinfo, Vanessa Mock
Swiss Animal Protection says many of Switzerland’s 27 circuses and wild animal trainers do not respect the basic needs of their wild animals in winter.
It has called on circuses to stop using wild and exotic animals and has launched a parliamentary initiative to stop the importation of such animals into Switzerland.
Switzerland’s national circus has rebuffed accusations that it keeps its elephants chained up in cramped cages.