Is it legal for circuses in Italy to use animals?

The Local Italy
The Local Italy - [email protected]
Is it legal for circuses in Italy to use animals?
Kimba the lion in his cage at the Rony Roller Circus outside Rome after he was captured on Saturday. (Photo by Sonia LOGRE / AFP)

After a lion escaped from a circus near Rome over the weekend and made international headlines, many people were surprised to learn that wild animals are kept for entertainment in Italy.


Residents of the seaside town of Ladispoli, near Rome, were told to stay indoors for more than five hours on Saturday while police, vets and circus staff tracked down an eight-year-old lion named Kimba that had escaped from a travelling circus.

Kimba was eventually sedated and captured, and his handler, Rony Vassallo, insisted that he posed no threat to the public.

Vassallo said he had been worried about Kimba’s safety, and some residents in the area also said they were more concerned about the animal’s welfare than any potential danger.

Some of The Local’s readers too expressed concern and surprise that it was apparently legal for a circus in a European country to keep such animals caged.

"How can this be legal? I thought Italy was supposed to be a country of animal lovers," commented one resident from the UK.

Kimba, who was born in captivity, is in fact among nine big cats at the circus, including tigers, while acts also involve elephants, camels, horses and even bison.

Rony Vassallo, lion tamer of Rony Roller's Circus, performing in 2013. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The incident focused public attention on the use of animals in circuses, and triggered renewed criticism from animal rights campaigners, who say using wild creatures in entertainment is cruel.

The practice is also viewed as unusual by people from many other countries: Italy is among just a handful of EU member states that has not banned or heavily restricted the use of animals in circuses.


In the UK, a law passed in 2019 bans the the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England. In the US however, there are campaigns for tighter federal regulation as only six states currently ban the use of exotic or wild animals in travelling animal acts or circuses.

In Italy, a law restricting their use in entertainment has been drafted but was this year delayed to 2024, according to the LAV animal rights campaign group, which estimates that around 2,000 animals are held in circuses across Italy.

The mayor of Ladispoli, Alessandro Grando, said that while he did not support the use of animals he did not have the authority to ban the circus from his town.

Grando on Monday called for a change in the law, saying: “I hope that this episode can stir some consciences, and that we can finally put an end to the exploitation of animals in circuses.”

Vassallo, the handler, however said people who criticise the use of animals in circus acts "don't know the reality of the facts, how animals are treated in circuses, of the checks that are carried out".


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also