Shriners Are Key to Ending Circuses 

Shriners Are Key to Ending Circuses 

Every year, local Shriners chapters hire abusive circuses in 120 cities and towns across the country which force elephants and other wild animals to endure lifetimes of suffering. These animals are coerced into performing hundreds of unnatural acts through fear and punishment, and have to withstand the deprivations and hardships of being caged and transported from one event to another — all simply for the purpose of making Shriners money.

Shriners International is best known for operating 22 hospitals for children, but instead of going directly to Shriners Hospitals, the majority of these circus profits go to operate local Shriner chapters often referred to as “Shrines.” As a fraternal organization, Shriners International oversees the hospitals and Shrines, yet refuses to end these cruel circus fundraisers where elephants, tigers, bears, lions, and more wild animals suffer day after day. Shriners literally pay for circuses to harm wild animals.  


Most of the funding for those children, who often face debilitating and difficult medical challenges, comes from an $8.72 billion-dollar endowment consisting of stock investments, plus other assets and income. The total 2020 budget for hospitals is $1.013 billion. The money coming from local Shrines pales in comparison, with circus fundraising amounting to even less. Shriners exacts a huge toll on animals forced to perform in circuses even though it does not need the money.

Though independent, Shrine chapters must abide by strict rules under Shriners International. All of the Shrines gather for the Imperial Session held in a different city each year. That is where Shriners both have fun and conduct business. Representatives of each Shrine also vote about how they will operate in the coming year. It is here they can ban the use of animal circuses for fundraising throughout the Shriners International organization. 

Many local Shrines have already stopped using animal circuses because public attitudes towards this type of entertainment are changing. In February, the Zor Shrine Circus announced it will no longer include elephants. Many cities, towns, and states have also enacted full or partial bans against circuses using elephants and other wild animals. Shrines that have already stopped using wild animal circuses have been highly creative and successful with fundraising without the baggage of abusing animals.  

Wild animals like elephants are forced to perform unnatural behaviors, or “tricks,” in these traveling circuses. All of them suffer from deprivation and from being violently punished solely for human entertainment. In addition, the ten main circuses hired by Shriners have an abysmal history of animal cruelty and violations of the Animal Welfare Act. 

Last year, In Defense of Animals quietly initiated the first phase of our Shriners Project. We sent letters to many Shrines that hire circuses as well as to Shriners International politely asking that they stop. Sadly, not even one responded.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, these circuses were operating from January through November in North America. However, for the foreseeable future, the pandemic will continue forcing Shriners to fundraise without circuses. This is the best opportunity to convince Shriners International to end their use of animal circuses forever. 

We at In Defense of Animals are stepping up our campaign to help ensure that elephant and other wild animal performances in Shrine circuses become a thing of the past. If you haven’t already, please be sure to take action through our alert to Shriners International because everyone will have a role in the coming several months to end the animal circus industry by convincing Shriners International that children can be helped without wild animals having to suffer in circuses.

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