The Elephant in the Room

Comparing the Natural Behavior of Elephants in Swedish Circuses and Zoos with a Critical Legal Perspective

  • Celia Antonia Karlin O'Sullivan Åbo Akademi University


According to the Swedish legislator, animal welfare is an important ethical issue in the country that has deep and broad anchoring in human consciousness. Nevertheless, criticism regarding urgent measures needed to raise the level of legislative protection for animals has been articulated in international comparisons. One of these measures being that Sweden ought to ban the use of all wild animals for entertainment purposes. Correspondingly, when the new Swedish Animal Welfare Act 2018:1192 was incorporated in 2019, the supplementary Animal Welfare Ordinance 2019:66 also followed which now added elephants to a list of 11 other kinds of wild animals prohibited to be displayed at circuses or similar operations. Notably, the new ban did however not prohibit the exhibition of elephants at zoos in Sweden. The reason behind the ban was according to the responsible minister that it was obvious that elephants’ natural behavior could not be satisfied in a circus. The Animal Welfare Act distinctly contains the contingent of natural behavior as a stipulation for a good animal environment. This critical animal law article consequently focuses its analysis to the issue of elephant’s prospects of natural behavior in both the circus as well as in the zoo environment. By utilizing elephants as an example and by comparing these two different institutions of entertainment, a systematic study illustrates an inconsistent use in the application of the legal requirement ‘natural behavior’.

Key words: Animal Law, Animal Protection, Animal Rights, Animal Welfare, Critical Animal Studies, Ethology, Natural Behavior.

How to Cite
KARLIN O'SULLIVAN, Celia Antonia. The Elephant in the Room. Global Journal of Animal Law, [S.l.], v. 9, dec. 2021. ISSN 2341-8168. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 25 june 2024.