Proposal to ban the use of wild animals in English circuses


Image: Jeroen van Oostrom/

Parliament has seen a proposal to ban the use of wild animals in English circuses following a long campaign where animal welfare groups, celebrities including the Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney, and politicians repeatedly called for such a measure. A government consultation revealed that 94 percent of respondents favoured a ban.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that having wild animals serve in the big top was “not right.” Ministers had, however, previously been reluctant to act on account of fears of legal action from circus operators. In 2011, the government suffered a humiliating defeat when a backbench motion by the Conservative MP, Mark Pritchard, calling for a ban passed despite a three-line whip against it. Pritchard claimed that he had been pressured by Downing Street to drop the motion. One carrot was an offer of a job, with a stick being an unpleasant personal verbal attack by one Tory MP, Anna Soubry, whose disposition led another MP to remark that she “looks as if she is sucking on a lemon.”

Between 150 and 200 animals are used in circuses, with 37 of them wild. Examples include camels, crocodiles, a kangaroo, lions, snakes, tigers and zebras. Animals have been maltreated and must cope with training, perhaps by fear and punishment, and then the stress of performing unnatural acts before a large, noisy crowd. Anxiety in animals manifests itself by pacing on the part of big cats, head bobbing by elephants and mouthing the bars of cages. Taxpayers foot the bill for inspections. The audience derives no educational or conservational benefit. Children are shown that animals exist for their amusement.

One instance of animal abuse assumed a high profile. In 2011, Bobby and Moira Roberts of Peterborough were originally the subject of legal action by Animal Defenders International (ADI) for causing unnecessary suffering to Anne, an arthritic 58 year-old elephant. The Crown Prosecution Service later took up the case. Covertly-taken film showed Anne chained to the ground and being beaten by an employee, both illegal under the Animal Welfare Act of 2006. Anne has now retired to the Longleat safari park in Wiltshire. A campaign by the newspaper, the Daily Mail, collected USD531,000/GBP340,000/EUR403,000 for her care.

The new bill, presently in draft form, would make it illegal to use a wild animal in a performance in England from 1 December, 2015. David Heath, the agriculture minister, informed MPs: “This ‘grace period’ is to allow operators of travelling circuses a reasonable period of time to adapt their businesses and organise suitable care arrangements for their wild animals.” The animals are no longer able to survive in the wild.

The bill would cover any creature not native to the United Kingdom. Strict regulations have already been enacted to improve the conditions of performing animals. To the dismay of commentators, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of MPs that scrutinised the bill found that it went “too far” and that certain species, for instance zebras, snakes and camels, should be exempt. Jan Creamer, the president of ADI, retorted that perpetual relocation and limited space created intolerable conditions for any species. There was, he professed, “No place in a civilised society for animals to be forced to endure a lifetime of cruelty and confinement for entertainment.” The government must decide whether to accept the committee’s suggestion.

There has been similar activity in other countries.

In the United States, while some municipalities have banned the use of animals in circuses fully or partially, the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act failed to pass Congress. The bill will be reintroduced this year. The pressure group, Born Free, made known that every major circus within the country had been cited for animal welfare violations. Many protestors took to the streets in Bakersfield, California, to vent their spleen at the Barnum and Bailey Circus. It’s expected that thousands of people will fill the Robobank Arena, but they’ll have to file past members of the Bakersfield Alliance for Animals. Julia Davis, a spokeswoman for the organisation, ventilated, “These animals don’t have a voice. We’re their voice.”

The Indian arm of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) conducted an inquiry into the welfare of animals in circuses at the behest of the Animal Welfare Board of India, a governmental advisory body. 16 circuses were investigated, and countless instances of violations of animal welfare were identified. Animals were housed in small cages, the wings of birds were clipped and animals were beaten on a regular basis. Dr Manilal Valliyate, PETA India’s director of veterinary affairs, accused the industry: “Cruelty to animals is inherent in the circus business.” He added that it was “high time” for a ban on the employment of animals in this setting. India has laws for the protection of animals, but enforcement is not a priority. PETA’s report stated, “Captivity inherently abuses animals and robs them of their natural state.” Dolphinariums have been banned.

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Eire, Greece, Israel, Spain, Singapore and Taiwan are some of the 30 countries that have already outlawed animal acts in circuses fully or at least for wild animals. The power to ban wild animals in circuses in the other components of the United Kingdom lies with their devolved assemblies, and some progress has been made.


About the Author Timothy Chilman

Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”

Leave a Comment: