Guidance on using animals in competitions

The issue

Magicians sometimes use animals, such as doves, goldfish and rabbits, during performances. In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness of issues this may cause.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 sets out that owners and keepers of animals have a duty of care to take all reasonable steps to meet the following welfare needs of animals in their care:

  • The need for a suitable environment
  • The need for a suitable diet
  • The need to exhibit normal behaviour
  • The need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
  • The need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

Potential welfare harms associated with using animals in performances include:

  • Inappropriate or unsafe carriers for transportation. Transportation of animals between sites and locations requires portable and often size-limited carriers, which may not meet animals’ need for a suitable environment, with adequate space, enrichment materials, temperature and noise regulation
  • The transportation and performance conditions, e.g. bright lights and loud noises, may lead to stress, which in turn can result in aggression and abnormal behaviour
  • Time spent travelling and performance schedules may disrupt the normal diet of wild animals, impacting on the storage, preparation and provision of food needed
  • Animals may be expected to perform when unwell or at times that do not suit their normal behaviour patterns (e.g. sleeping), potentially leading to further health problems or additional stress.

From an ethical perspective, The Magic Circle considers that the welfare of animals should not be compromised in relation to a performance. Furthermore, the welfare of animals used in performances is emblematic of the way we treat all animals. Using animals in performance without due care and attention may inadvertently suggest that they are commodities which can be used to perform unnatural behaviours for human entertainment, which in turn may lead to reduced respect for animals more generally.

Our position

Anyone wishing to perform with an animal during any competition hosted by The Magic Circle must adhere to this policy. For the avoidance of doubt, this includes any living creature in the animal kingdom, including birds, rodents, fish, invertebrates and other living organisms (except plants).

You must:

  • seek prior permission to use animals from The Magic Circle Council. You will need to provide a video of all routines involving animals as they will be presented at least 2 weeks prior to the date of the competition. This will be reviewed by The Magic Circle’s Animal Welfare Officer and members of Council to ensure it meets requirements.
  • provide evidence of your animals performing license. This is a legal requirement for anyone using an animal during performance in the UK. There are no exceptions for age, country of residence etc. More details can be found here:
  • confirm that all animals have received sufficient training to reduce stress during performance.
  • not perform any routine which poses any real or suggested risk to the health or welfare of your animal. This includes any routine which is technically safe but which may appear dangerous from the audiences’ perspective.
  • clearly treat your animals with respect during performance.

Please send any questions to