Undercover Investigation Targets Animal Treatment in Vietnam Circuses

They found poor conditions, as well as stressed and endangered animals.

moon bear riding a car at Vietnam resort
A moon bear is made to ride a car at Hoa Lan Island in Vietnam.

Animals Asia

Monkeys and moon bears ride bikes. Elephants gingerly walk over people. Dogs race with monkeys on their back.

These are some of the animal spectacles at circuses and tourist attractions in Vietnam. Recently, investigators went undercover for the wildlife aid group, Animals Asia, to check the treatment and conditions where these animals are kept.

The results of the investigation were published in the report, “Animals in Circuses in Vietnam.” The group published its first report on the state of Vietnam circuses in 2017.

This more recent report includes updates on conditions, as well as points out recommendations that haven’t been followed. The report acts as a reminder for local authorities about the group’s recommendations on animal abuse in circuses, according to the group.

In researching their report, undercover investigators visited animal attractions in Vietnam and took photos backstage where the animals were kept. They also interviewed staff members to find out more about what went on inside the facilities and where the animals had come from.

They found hundreds of animals kept in substandard living conditions with many exhibiting stress-related behaviors like weaving and rocking, banging their heads against cage bars, and self-mutilating. Reportedly, some animals died while in captivity.

Protected Species and Undocumented Origins

A monkey is made to ride a dog in races on Monkey Island or Hon Lao
A monkey is made to ride a dog in races on Monkey Island or Hon Lao.

Animals Asia

Some of the animals are endangered species that are protected from commercial exploitation under Vietnamese law. These include Asiatic black bears (moon bears), bottlenose dolphins, Asian elephants, Siamese crocodiles, and all species of macaques and pythons.

The report found 17 facilities that use species that are protected under law. They include three permanent circuses, eight amusement parks, two tourist resorts, and five traveling circuses.

The origin of many animals used in Vietnamese circuses and other animal attractions is mostly undocumented, according to the report.

Animals are being forced through fear and intimidation to perform unnatural behaviors, and being held in poor living conditions.

The report points out that records from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) document that 39 critically endangered bottlenose dolphins were imported into Vietnam between 2008 and 2019. Thirty-three were reported as wild-caught animals from Japan. Staff members at the attractions confirmed the investigators’ assumption that many of the dolphins have died.

“The welfare of animals used in circuses in Vietnam is often very poor,” one of the Animals Asia undercover investigators tells Treehugger. (For safety, the investigator had to remain anonymous.)

They added: “Animals are being forced through fear and intimidation to perform unnatural behaviors, and being held in poor living conditions. Individual animals are suffering further due to their removal from their parents when they are very young to be used in animal interactions and shows.”

In a statement to the media, another investigator said, “Through my investigations, it's very sad to see how people exploited the animals and abused them. Highly social, intelligent animals like macaques, elephants, dogs ... were separated, isolated, and kept in very barren, unhygienic conditions. It's causing them unnecessary suffering, especially that we—humans—now have a wide variety of forms of entertainment that do not need to involve animals.”

Since the wildlife aid group submitted the report to Vietnamese authorities, they have not received any feedback yet. But after their earlier circus report, the group says many positive steps were taken. Sixteen circuses have stopped using any animals in their shows and seven have stopped using certain species. Other circuses have started to replace wild animals with domesticated species, such as horses, cats, and pigs.