Sunday, December 3, 2023

Inside Peter Jolly’s Circus: Investigating The Allegations

Over the past few days there has been a lot of talk around Belper and online about allegations made by Animal Defenders International about Peter Jolly’s Circus. Belper News, Derbyshire Times, Nottingham Post and local radio stations have all run articles, headlines and reports which primarily focus on the perspective of Animal Defenders International and local animal rights activists.

The problem with this is that none of the media outlets actually investigated whether the claims are true, and Peter Jolly adamantly claims that he has not spoken to any of them.  The photos used in Belper News were 2 years old and from a protest at Lower Somercotes; they were misleading.

The Accusers:

Animal Defenders International have taken issue with anyone using animals for any purpose at all and they don’t hide this fact – they do not stand for animal welfare per se, they specifically stand against all animal use.  It was ADI who released the video that has been circulating around Facebook.

For context of their position, when the foot and mouth crisis hit Britain in 2001, Animal Defenders International compared the culling of the infected and suffering animals to killing animals for meat consumption from a vegetarian/vegan perspective.

The position is extreme and is ideological rather than about the conditions of the animals.  However, they refer to themselves as an animal welfare organisation, despite their focus being different, and they use the welfare of animals as a tactic to gain support despite the welfare of the animals not being their ultimate goal.  They want all animal use banned regardless of whether the animals are well cared for and regardless of whether the animals are happy and enjoy performing. On the topic of circuses, ADI frequently teams up with PETA, who have stated that animals are better off dead than in captivity.

They have previously made an issue out of the death of Onkuli, a 25 year old Ankole-Watusi bull who performed at the same circus.  Ankole-Watusi live between 10 and 30 years.  So Onkuli died of old age.  His death was however, without evidence or context or even a specific accusation, blamed on his participation in the circus by ADI.

ADI intend to close every circus (that uses animals) in the world, regardless of what kind of animals are used, what the performances entail, how they are treated and what conditions they are kept in.

They released this video in April 2016.  It was filmed in March 2015.  They submitted it to DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) for investigation in April 2016, over a year after the footage was filmed.


Other local complaints include the use of electrified fencing at the farm – this is common to farms and deters roaming, which allows animals which require licensing to be allowed outside.

Local animal rights groups also object to keeping the animals inside during inclement weather – if the alleged problem is exercise then they certainly get the opportunity for plenty.  If the problem is them being indoors at all then there is perhaps an impractical and exaggerated demand being made.


The Responses to the Accusations:


In August 2016 DEFRA responded to Animal Defenders International.  They had investigated, which involved an unannounced inspection, revisiting previous checks of the winter quarters, interviewing circus staff and examination of Peter Jolly’s Circus’ detailed paperwork on every aspect of each animal’s life.

The conclusions were as follows:

  •  “there were periods when the licensed animals were kept in their barn for longer than would be expected in normal conditions. These periods were identified in the circus’ records (as well as by cross-checking with independent records taken from climatological records for the area) as periods coinciding with adverse weather conditions.”
  • “The zebra enclosure identified in your March and November 2015 observations was judged as adequate at the time by the inspector during his February 2015 inspection as both zebra were still then immature in size. In his following inspection of March 2016 both
    zebra had been moved to two separate loose boxes which the inspector judged to be of adequate size for the animals at their present stage of development.”
  • The camel and ankole enclosure, although deemed adequate in inspections, was outdated and inaccurate information, as the animals had had access to a secondary area and by the time of this investigation the ankole had died of old age and the camel had another 15 square metres on top of those two areas.
  • The inspector confirmed that all licensed animals had access to water.
  • The circus confirmed that the individual filmed spitting at the camel was a member of staff.  DEFRA found no evidence that the camel was “tormented” but still found the actions unacceptable.
  • The licensed animals, in the recent unannounced inspection, were found to be in good health. Although not covered by the licensing scheme, the inspector also confirmed he had no concerns about the condition of the circus’ domestic animals.

Mr. Jolly’s account:

“What happened was they broke into our premises in the middle of the night.  They let animals loose.  They put it on their website that they’d done it.  ADI published this.  If I’ve got various ponies in the shed, that are separated because of their sex and the way they get on with other animals, and somebody comes in my shed and turns them loose, it causes mayhem. Now remember this is in the dark in the middle of the night with cameras and lights shining at them. It caused mayhem. And they videoed it basically.

They videoed a boy, now this is where the story’s totally wrong.  They said that the boy spits at the camel. What happened was… our camel, if he’s got food on a food dish – we’ve got rubber food dishes – if you go near him (’cause this even happens with the DEFRA inspectors) if you go to him when he’s got dishes, the camel will spit at you.  The boy, in his defence – because we actually stopped the boy being anywhere near him for 12 months with the advice of DEFRA – he did this >imitates gesture of raising hands< and that’s all you see on the video, him putting his hands up.”

Another member of staff suggested that there had been some doctoring of footage by ADI.


DEFRA issued the following advice to the circus:
“At the winter quarters, provide a new covered outdoor area (attached to the barn) and an additional shelter in one of
their fields, to better allow for outdoor access and exercise for their animals during periods of poor weather.”
“Ensure the member of staff involved in the spitting incident will now be supervised at all times when coming into contact with the circus’ licensed animals. Any change to this situation must be first approved by Defra, along with an explanation of why supervision is no longer necessary.”

The advice was taken on board.  The Circus has a list (which I saw posted on the wall of the circus office) of who is allowed to work with licensed animals and at what level they are allowed to work with them (eg. mucking out, training, feeding). The member of staff involved in the incident with the camel was barred by the circus itself from being near the camel for a year.


Inside Peter Jolly’s Circus

We couldn’t investigate how ADI behaves when it breaks into animal enclosures but we could pay an unexpected visit to Peter Jolly’s Circus to see how the animals were kept, how the people behaved, what they had to say and what we could find out when they had no time to prepare for us.

Mr. Jolly was understandably annoyed that the press have attacked his circus without investigating but ultimately welcomed our investigation and gave us access to records and the areas where the animals were kept, although many were roaming free around us (by their own choice) despite the rain.

The paperwork for a circus is as rigorous as a school and is assessed on some of the same criteria.  There is a welfare report for every animal and everything that happens with each animal is recorded.  Specifically there are records made 4 times a day on everything from food to training to the weather to “enrichment”, a criteria valued in schools for above average provision effort for enjoyment of environment and activity.  We saw this paperwork.  The office was jam packed with files.  We were shown veterinary files for the regular checks which occur at least 4 times a year for every animal.  The last one was Wednesday 28th June and there have been 2 unannounced inspections this year.

We also saw all of the “enclosures”.  The only animals who were truly penned in were those which would be very difficult to catch or would be potentially dangerous if loose – one parrot, one racoon, one fox, a herd of cats, two adult zebra, two llamas, one camel and one miniature zebu.  They all had plenty of room and many animals had the choice of being indoors or outdoors.  The hooved animals were all indoors because it was raining fairly heavily.  They could only be described as content.  They were calm and well fed.  They were friendly, curious, trusting of the humans looking after them, well attended (there were five staff members with them while it was raining) and not in any distress or under any stress.  They appeared in very good health and mood.

There is a care plan, like an infant’s red health record book, which contains health records, behavioural enrichment records, dietary requirements, preventative medicine and stunningly, at the back are retirement plans for each animal.  They use several veterinarians around the country. including Skeldale, James Herriot’s old practice which featured in The Yorkshire Vet documentary series.

There are records of all training and performing – learning to be lead into the ring, how long they spent in the ring, licensing of goat movement (a legal requirement), who worked with which animals etc.

As previously stated there is a limited list of staff who can work with licensed animals and these are given in house training and the list also ranks them by years of experience. Most staff on the list had multiple decades of experience.

Training is not, as some believe, teaching them to endanger themselves.  The circus uses thoroughly modern practices and training including clicker training, reward and reinforcement but the tricks are simple and benign and their definition of training is broad and seemingly relaxed.  The animals are not the focus of the show.  For example, one horse’s involvement is simply a clown pretending that he can’t get on it properly.

“There’s no walking on their hind legs or jumping through fire.”  Peter Jolly


The rules that circuses have to abide by are not lax.  There are very strict guidelines and they are held to a very high standard of practice. Peter Jolly’s Circus is inspected multiple times a year by both DEFRA and veterinarians and some of those are surprise inspections.  The transport and travel habitation is above regulation size, giving the animals more room than is required.


Strong Local Support

Jolly’s enjoys strong local support.  Local fans of the circus found the touring company a new site after their regular site was unavailable due to the health of cows on the usual site.  There has also been strong opposition to the protests against the use of animals in the shows.

This may be in part because of the way that the protestors have conducted themselves.  The circus has complained that they have, in the past, shouted abuse at children through a megaphone to deter them from attending the performances.  The circus also raised concerns about pet animals being in attendance at long protests without water.


Opposition to Animals in Circuses

There is also opinion that animals should not be used in circuses.  A public consultation by DEFRA in 2011 claimed that 94% of the public are opposed to “wild” animals in circuses.  Their use has been described as “outdated” and in 2012 DEFRA proposed that animals be banned from performing in circuses.  The coalition government passed a draft bill but ordered an impact assessment and a report from a committee of experts before final decisions were made. DEFRA instituted strict new licensing regulations to cover any gap between proposal and an anticipated ban, which are the regulations which circuses are currently inspected for compliance with.  In 2013 the committee issued its report which revised the draft bill from an outright ban down to banning certain animals but allowing others.  The government disagreed and issued a response to the committee report.  Nothing appears to have happened after that and groups involved in calling for the ban (RSPCA, PETA, ADI, Animal Aid) have since condemned David Cameron for not fulfilling the pledge and called upon Theresa May to do so.  In a joint letter to Theresa May they claimed,

“They are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them, their spirits are broken at a young age, and they are kept in cages or pens for most of their lives.

“Pacing, bar-biting, circling, self-mutilation, and other captivity-induced types of neurotic behaviour are common among performing animals.”

We have to state that the evidence of our visit today does not support these claims in regards to this circus at this time.


Animal Welfare versus Animal Rights

The debate comes down to two standpoints.  Animal Rights supporters believe that animals should not be used by humans and that their very presence in circuses is abusive and a compromise of their welfare.  Animal Welfare supporters are not necessarily against the use of animals by humans but want animals to be treated well in those circumstances where they are used.  Animal Rights supporters want circuses banned from using animals.  Animal Welfare supporters want the animals to be well cared for and to live in a good caring environment.


The Animals

Our investigation of Peter Jolly’s Circus showed no problems with animal welfare.  That conclusion matches the conclusions of DEFRA and veterinarians in attendance of these animals.  Whether their rights are compromised is a judgement that individuals choose to make on behalf of the animals, according to their own ideologies.  Some of the animals are kept in enclosures, and some of them live in these quarters full time, as zoo animals and indoor pets do.  We can, however, assure people that these animals are not in distress, show no signs of stress, are healthy, are well cared for and seem content and unharmed by their profession and living conditions.  Some of these animals were in fact rescued from unacceptable circumstances and one is undergoing rehabilitation to undo previous harm.  The animals all trust their handlers.  They show curiosity and seek contact with humans in a way that appears natural and matches that of happy pets.  There is no filth, no smell, no signs of abuse, no extreme constriction or enclosure.  These animals are in no way underfed, under-stimulated or under-considered.  Whether that is sufficient to assauge concerns will depend on your own position on animal captivity and activity.

This is what we saw:

The cats are not licensed animals. They have the freedom to be indoors or outdoors. Their environment is changed weekly to enrich their experience.
Racoon. Has the freedom to be indoors or outdoors. Environment changed weekly.
Samantha the Fox was rescued from a fox hunt as a pup.
She had been dug into a foxhole by the hunt pack and Mr. Jolly dug her out.
Pigmy goats roam freely around the site.
Bad weather shelter for hooved animals.
Stable water stores, refuting claims that they go without water.


This horse found a new life with the circus after it was found abandoned chained to a block of flats.
Zulu – 1 year old Zebra – not in an enclosure
Camel and Miniature Zebu
Parrot rescued from a private owner.  He was kept in a tiny cage and became unable to fly due to not developing the right muscles. He is currently building up these muscles and his new found health has improved the colour of his plummage.

Nottingham Animal Rights planned a protest outside the circus for 90 minutes last night 29/06/17.  4 people had signalled on Facebook that they intended to attend.  They posted the ADI footage and claimed that conditions were “cruel and barbaric” on the basis of that video.  As we go to press we do not know whether or not the short protest occurred.


Circus show times

If you wish to see Peter Jolly’s Circus performing, they are at Morley Hill Farm, Over Ln, Belper, DE56 0HJ until Sunday. To prebook your tickets, call their Dial A Seat number 07850687503

Clare Washbrook

Current Editor-in-Chief News and magazine editor since 1995 Post-grads: Literature; Theatre; Journalism, Ethics & Law Community Affiliations: Belper Goes Green, Belper's WW1 Poppies, Amber Valley Solidarity No political party memberships/affiliations.

11 thoughts on “Inside Peter Jolly’s Circus: Investigating The Allegations

  • C. Craddock

    Brilliant xxx

  • Well written and thoughtful report. Keep up the good work nailed! Nice to know investigative journalism is alive in Belper.

  • Discount Aftershave

    Well informed article, good to see the truth as opposed to these groups of uneducated morons jumping on the bandwagon to protest with no evidence. Majority of these animal rights people are naive with no evidence or clue as to what they are protesting about.

  • I would not wish to see captive animals used for my entertainment, in the same way that I wouldn’t find entertainment value in horses and dogs used for racing. I don’t want to live in a cage, enclosure, stall or pen and so I wouldn’t wish it on another.

  • Eileen weaver

    I would rather be at the jollys circus than with any farmers ,they do look after there animals.if you want to see cruelty go to the slaughter houses that do hahal how our country allows this form of cruelty is beyond me,the jollys are a family circus giving lots of pleasure to a lot of family’s , Eileen Weaver

  • Chris Barltrop

    At last, a sensible, balanced and well-considered view from a first-hand perspective. I am a member of the circus community. Ever since I joined my first circus back in the early 70s I have been angered at the outrageous lies and hypocrisy of those behind the ‘animal rights’ movement. ‘The poor animals’ are used as a get-rich-quick scheme by the organisations mentioned here, which make millions from the donations of good-hearted but naive members of the public. To further their ’cause’, those organisations channel vast donations to political Parties, Labour and the SNP in particular, to manipulate the political process in their favour – ‘Laws for Cash’ to maximise their profits. Animals must be protected – but that’s exactly what Jollys and other animal circuses do, under the strict control of DEFRA’s experts. Dear reader, please support animal welfare, NOT ‘animal rights’!

  • Steve Richley

    Congratulations on a well-written article dealing with facts!

  • Ewa Narkiewicz

    Thank you for reporting the truth with integrity.

  • Andrew Lewis

    As someone who regularly visits Circus shows across the country and as someone who visits Peter Jolly’s Circus also on fairly regular basis, this I have to say is a superbly written and thought provoking piece. These days, we are more used to reading or seeing within the media only the anti circus protestors viewpoint and usually the same ADI email to newspapers each week. This piece gives Circus in general and the Jolly family some creditability for everything they do, not only in the name of entertainment but also everything they do in the name of animal welfare.
    Superb. Thank you.

  • Francesca Smith

    Personally I do not believe any of the animals used would wish to perform if they were given a choice not to.. We co habit this beautiful planet with animals… We do not own them.. I hate to see animals confined in unnatural enclosures and forced to do things that are not natural to them… We do not need to pay to visit these antiquated attractions anymore..

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