Shrine Circus

More than 100 Shriners International temples (chapters) in 40 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces will sponsor circuses in 2019.

Shrine Circus: no fun for animals
Shrine temples partner with circuses, such as Tarzan Zerbini, Hamid Circus, Carden Circus, and the Royal Hanneford Circus, which have poor records of animal abuse and neglect. Circuses are on the road for weeks at a time. Elephants are kept chained in trucks. Tigers and bears are transported in barren, cramped cages. The brief performances may be the only time animals are allowed out of their cages or freed from their chains. Animals in the circus never get to act like animals in their natural habitat. Family bonds are broken and animal’s natural behaviors are denied. Violent, physical abuse remains a common method of training and controlling elephants and other animals in the circus.

“Circus with a purpose”?
Shriners International is a legally and financially separate organization from the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Circus patrons are misled into believing that proceeds from the circus benefit the hospitals. If you look closely, the small print on circus advertisements and tickets make it clear that proceeds help to maintain Shrine temples’ building, pay staff salaries and fund parties and other activities, and do not benefit the hospitals. The best way to help the Shriners Hospitals for Children is to make a donation directly to the hospital.
Shriners have been associated with circuses for a long time (some temples have held annual circuses for 50 or 60 years or more), but change is possible. Several Shrine temples have replaced long-running circuses with equally profitable alternatives. Shrine temples conduct a wide variety of non-animal fundraising activities, including golf tournaments, car shows, carnivals and family picnics, haunted houses, festival of trees (holiday event), music concerts, BBQ competitions, and all-star football games.

A struggling fraternity
The first Shriners temple was established in 1872. Today, Shriners International members are aging and the organization is losing thousands of members each year.

An example to follow
In February 2016, Lions Clubs International released a statement urging its clubs and members to “refrain from fundraising activities that exploit or cause harm to animals.” The organization discouraged its clubs from holding fundraisers with circuses that use animals.

You Can Help

Shriners have taken steps to modernize (for example, in 2015, the Imperial Potentate ordered temples to refrain from using the Confederate Battle Flag in public appearances and events). The fraternity needs to take additional steps to improve its image and attract new members. Help us encourage Shriners International to position the organization for the future, by rejecting cruel animal circuses. Please write to the Imperial Potentate, the head of Shriners International.


Jim Smith, Imperial Potentate
Shriners International
2900 Rocky Point Drive
Tampa, FL 33607

Sample text (it’s best to use your own words):


Dear Imperial Sir Smith:


I applaud Shriners International for its commitment to giving back to the community and, in particular, helping children in need. I understand that increasing membership is currently the number one priority for the fraternity. I believe that a move away from animal circuses as fundraisers would lead to more positive impressions about the fraternity and could encourage people to become a Shriner.


The use of elephants, tigers and other animals in traveling circuses is controversial. There are numerous, successful non-animal fundraisers conducted by Shrine temples, such as golf tournaments, car shows, festivals, or animal-free circuses.


I respectfully request that Shriners International encourage Shrine temples in the U.S. and Canada to replace animal circuses with alternative fundraisers. Perhaps an end to circus sponsorships could be included as an item of discussion at the 2020 Imperial Session?


Thank you.

Please share with ARFF any responses that you receive.

Animal Rights Foundation of Florida
PO Box 39352, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33339

Promoting respect and compassion for animals in Florida has been the mission of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida since 1989.

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.