McLaren Circus raises animal rights activists’ hackles

The McLaren Circus will be arriving in East London on December 20 to perform the latest iteration of their widely popular show.

Families will no doubt flock to the showgrounds to witness their famous performances which will include clowns, acrobats, and much more.

However, another crowd will also be there to greet them upon arrival. Animal rights activists will be organising a protest of McLaren Circus during their stay in East London.

The protest will involve a number of animal rights organisations, such as Ban Animal Trading (BAT), Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC), Animal Liberation Collective (ALC) and the EMS Foundation.

As the last circus in the country to still use live animals, McLaren has drawn plenty of criticism from people who believe their treatment of animals to be less than satisfactory.

“Our stance is that all animals have inherent value and have the right to live their own lives free of human exploitation and abuse,” said BAT director Kathy Raffray.

“Circuses that use animals in their acts are exploiting these animals for financial gain, while making them perform tricks in an unnatural environment. Animals are not entertainment.”

Raffray also raised concerns over the negative effects on McLaren’s animals from a life spent on the road in small trailers and rest enclosures.

ANIMAL RIGHTS OR WRONGS: The use of live animals by McLaren Circus has sparked heated debate between circus supporters and animal rights activists
Picture: FILE

McLaren Circus has hit back at these accusations, accusing the protesters of hypocrisy and of even being against Tiso Blackstar media group, of which the GO! & Express is a part.

“They ‘fight’ [quotation marks by original author] a bigger cause than just circuses. They are against supermarkets that sell meat, leather products, horse riding, zoos, animal testing, etc,” said McLaren Circus social media and public relations officer Karl Hildebrandt.

“This is also very strange because a vast majority of the protesters standing outside McLaren Circus picketing, volunteer at zoos, they ride horses and still eat meat. Essentially, these animal rights activists are against the entire Tiso Blackstar group: you rely on businesses that sell animal products to advertise with you to sell their products.”

According to Hildebrandt, great care is taken by the circus to ensure their animals are treated well.

“Our animal trainers/ presenters adhere to the Performing Animal Protection Act and they are in the possession of a performing animals permit which is issued through the department of agriculture and fisheries.”

Handlers are also required to to obtain a wildlife permit from each province.

In addition, the circus is heavily monitored by the NSPCA during performances. Duncan McLaren insisted that the NSPCA has not found any evidence of animal abuse during their inspections.

“Ask the NSPCA why they haven’t shut us down?” he said.

However, the NSPCA is on record condemning the use of animals in circus performances. The organisation has released an official statement, available on their website, which declares their opposition to any use of animals in circuses or travelling menageries.

According to the NSPCA, “cruelty to animals is inherent in such displays”.

Hildebrand also admitted that the NSPCA would not vouch for McLaren Circus, given their opposition to the use of circus animals.

“The various SPCAs can only monitor and manage the conditions in which the circus animals are kept in terms of the Animal Protection Act,” said Raffray.

This act, she said, only stipulates the bare minimum animal welfare conditions must be met – access to food, water, shelter, and no blatant acts of cruelty.

The conflict between McLaren and animal rights activists has only escalated recently. In a series of WhatsApp messages and a phone call to the GO! & Express, McLaren accused activists of intimidating store owners into removing his posters from their shop windows.

Raffray denied the allegations, saying they frowned upon such tactics.

“Animal rights activists prefer to present the facts and educate the public around specific animal rights violations,” she said.

According to Raffray, activists engaged in a dialogue with the various businesses and presented their arguments against the use of circus animals to businesses.

“It would then be up to the business owners to decide whether they remove or keep the posters,” she said.

One of the screenshots sent to the GO! by Duncan McLaren, taken from the “Goodbye, Circus” Facebook page, confirms this. The post, which is still available on their page at the time of writing, says that posters were removed “with permission of business owners”.


  1. oh for goodness sake how the hell would Karl Hildebrandt know who ate meat or who rides horses in the crowd of protesters??? They are grasping at straws, because worldwide they are banning animals in circuses. It is not natural for tigers, lions etc to jump through hoops, sit upright and do stupid tricks for the entertainment of idiotic humans. My suggestion is if people want to perform in circuses knock yourself out, they have a voice and a choice…..animals dont. I suggest the Maclaren circus realizes their time is up and go out and get real jobs instead of living off the animals.

  2. Animals belong in the wild not doing tricks for the ignorant audience they are pulling. The activists are definitely a thorn in his flesch if he is attacking them in the media. He must enjoy his stupid show it will come to an end. If McLaren don’t give tickets away he won’t have many people watching his stupid show. These animals are not meant to travel up and down and spend their days in cages in the sun. Many countries are banning animals in Circuses and it will still be done in SA.

  3. I have been to McClaren more than once, I got to know the animals, got to know the people. The animals are well looked after. If they release these animals in the wild they will die… so what does these activist propose they do release the lions for caged hunting ?. Do you eat chicken, beef etc ?. Go find another cause. These animals are safe…

    • So you are a biased newspaper and refused to show my comment. From now on I no longer advertise with you and tell my EL friends what you about

      • Hi Michael

        All comments on our website have to be manually approved on our side. Because of this, we often cannot approve comments immediately after they have been posted. However, we do try to get around to them as soon as we possibly can.

  4. It is not about animal rights who are in it for the donations but Animal Welfare. McLarens are the best at ANIMAL WELFARE and for me animal welfare is all that counts. Long live the Animal Friendly and traditional circuses who are very well supported by South Africans who care for and love animals 24/7.

  5. Ronel really? We (BWC) have offered to cover the costs of relocating the animals to sanctuaries, where they can live as close to normal a life as possible, without being obliged to entertain by doing tricks, and without human interaction unless absolutely necessary. Animal circuses are NOT welcome in our city, as they well know, given that crowds of up to almost 300 have been in attendance to say NO to prisoners for profit.

  6. All legal animal industries, animal owners and lovers alike, lifestyles and livelihoods are under threat from the misinformation and extremism of the ban animal trading (bat) and bwc. Bat and bwc are not respectful. They lie and say crowds of 300 are in attendance when in fact it is less than 30 of them that make a fool of themselves paying minors to join in on their nonsensical money making drive with absolutely no care for the animals because they are confessed vegans. All animal industries have been victims of false propaganda. Bat and bwc have very little knowledge about animal husbandry, care, and keeping. All they have is an emotional agenda with the intent to destroy animal ownership.

  7. The Circus haters must stayaway! That is the hypocritical clowns claiming to be animal rights supporters. Leave us Circus lovers alone to enjoy the show which will go on come hell or high water.


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