News: Calls continue for a ban on wild circus animals in England

By Poppy Bragg
MPs and animal rights groups are continuing to put pressure on the Government to ban circuses with wild animals, such as lions, tigers and zebras, from England.
Labour MP Robert Flello  has secured an adjournment debate at Westminster Hall next week (Wed June 8), where MPs will call on the Government to reverse its decision to regulate rather than ban the use of wild animals in circuses.

Copyright J. Hines. Campaigners say wild animals like these zebras do not belong in circuses.

It had been anticipated that a ban would be introduced, following a public consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA ) showing support from 94.5 per cent of respondents.
Instead, Caroline Spelman, DEFRA’s Secretary of State, announced on May 13 that a tough new licensing regime to ensure high welfare standards for wild animals in circuses would be introduced.
She said new regulations to be drawn up after consultation with welfare experts will set out the rules for transport, quarters, and treatment of the animals, including performance and training methods.
DEFRA minister James Paice had said the previous day a ban could not be brought in, due to reports of legal action being taken against the Austrian government for outlawing wild circus animals in 2005.
It later emerged that there was no case in Austria, though the European Circus Association (ECA) has confirmed it expects Germany’s Circus Krone to initiate proceedings there on or before June 15.
Mr Paice faced a barrage of criticism from fellow MPs when he was questioned in Parliament on May 19 about the non-existent legal case and on DEFRA’s refusal to bring in a ban.
He told them that legal advice indicated a total ban may be seen as disproportionate under the European Union Services Directive and the Human Rights Act.
Caroline Lucas, Brighton Pavilion’s Green MP, criticised this position as an “extraordinarily cowardly one” and Labour MP Mary Creagh, accused DEFRA of hiding behind human rights legislation.
These criticisms reflected the support within Parliament for a ban, with 196 MPs including Dr Lucas and Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby, having signed Early Day Motion (EDM) 403.
EDM 403, proposed by Labour MP and former DEFRA Minister Jim Fitzpatrick, urges the Government to make the ban stating that “treating wild animals as circus tricks has no place in civilised society”.
Since DEFRA announced there would be no ban a further EDM condemning this has been put forward and so far been signed by 11 MPs including Dr Lucas.
Despite the parliamentary support, when Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, suggested the Government should impose a ban and then parliament could deal with any complications that may arise afterwards, Mr Paice disagreed.
He said: “Any Ministers who wilfully ignore such [legal] advice and risk the Government being taken to court and losing are, in my view, neglecting their duty.
“We have made the right decision: we have taken swift action to deal with the issue of the welfare of circus animals, and I believe that that is the right course.”
ECA Brussels Representative, Laura van der Meer, has welcomed DEFRA’s decision to regulate rather than ban.
She said:  “We also believe that regulations are the best way to ensure animal welfare while also preserving the classical circus, including the presentation of animals, which is a European invention, born in London in 1768 and which has been recognised by the European Parliament in its 2005 Resolution as part of European cultural heritage.
“We also have publicly supported a new general animal welfare framework for all animals in the EU in connection with the ongoing EU strategy on animal welfare currently under development.”
She added: “We do not believe for a minute the claims made by animal rights people that training circus animals requires abuse.
“The nice thing about governmental regulations is that if there are individual instances of abuse – be it children, wives or animals – they can be prosecuted.”
However, the view that regulation is sufficient has been disputed by organisations, including the British Veterinary Association (BVA), Animal Defenders International (ADI), and the RSPCA.
BVA President Harvey Locke, said: “The BVA strongly supported a ban because we believe the welfare of these animals is emblematic of the way we treat all animals under the care of humans.
“The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within the environment of a travelling circus, especially in terms of accommodation and the ability to express normal behaviour.”
The BVA had supported The Independent’s campaign calling for a ban and its petition, which has now attracted more than 25,000 signatures.
Mr Locke, along with representatives from the newspaper and animal rights groups including the RSPCA and Born Free Foundation, presented the petition (then with around 22,000 signatures) to Downing Street on May 17.
ADI have also spoken out over the failure to ban, with chief executive Jan Creamer calling the Government’s proposals “ a toothless tiger”.
Undercover ADI investigations earlier this year exposed abuse at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus, with victims including elephant Anne, who was repeatedly beaten by workers (pictured below).

©Animal Defenders International

The arthiritic 57-year-old who was Britain’s last circus elephant, has now been re-homed at  Longleat Safari and Adventure park.

Alexandra Cardenas, ADI campaigns manager said: “Our investigations have consistently shown that circus animals are subjected to deprivation and abuse in order for them to perform circus tricks.”

She said that the proposed regulations, would not only be costly for the public but also an impractical route to ensuring animal welfare.

One practical problem she referred to was that welfare inspectors would have to be able to deal with a vast array of wild animals, as circuses could have different types each time they came to England.

Ms Cardenas said: “They [the government] should follow common sense as well as public and political will –  there is overwhelming evidence that the correct route to ensure animal welfare is a ban, not regulation.”


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