Undercover investigation targets treatment of animals in Vietnam’s circuses

Moon monkeys and bears ride bicycles. Elephants tread carefully on people. Dogs race with monkeys on their backs.

Here are some of the animal shows in circuses and tourist attractions in Vietnam. Recently, investigators went undercover for the wildlife aid group, Animals Asia, to verify the treatment and the conditions in which these animals are kept.

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

This more recent report includes updates on conditions, as well as recommendations that have not been followed. The report reminds local authorities of the group’s recommendations on animal abuse in circuses, according to the group.

While researching their report, undercover investigators visited animal attractions in Vietnam and took photos behind the scenes where the animals were kept. They also interviewed staff members to find out more about what was going on inside the facilities and where the animals came from.

They found hundreds of animals kept in substandard living conditions, many exhibiting stress-related behaviors like weaving and rocking, banging their heads against cage bars and self-harming. According to some reports, some animals have died in captivity.

Protected species and undocumented origins


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 which 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 legally protected species. 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 coerced by fear and intimidation into unnatural behaviors and are kept in poor living conditions.

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

“The welfare of animals used in circuses in Vietnam is often very poor,” one of Animals Asia’s undercover investigators told Treehugger. (For security reasons, the interviewer had to remain anonymous.)

They added: “Animals are coerced by fear and intimidation into unnatural behaviors and are kept in poor living conditions. Individual animals suffer more due to being withdrawn from their parents when very young to be used in animal interactions and shows.

In a statement to the media, another investigator said: “Through my investigations, it is very sad to see how people have exploited animals and abused them. Very social and intelligent animals like macaques, elephants, dogs… were separated, isolated and kept in very sterile and unsanitary conditions. This causes them unnecessary suffering, especially since we humans now have a wide variety of forms of entertainment that need not involve animals.

Since the wildlife aid group submitted the report to the Vietnamese authorities, they have yet to receive any feedback. But after their previous report on the circus, the group says many positive steps have been taken. Sixteen circuses stopped using animals in their shows and seven stopped using certain species. Other circuses began to replace wild animals with domestic species, such as horses, cats and pigs.

Boyd S. Abbott