Hopes that the Welsh government would be the first country in the UK to break the deadlock and ban the use of wild animals in circuses have been dashed. Instead of decisive action, a weaker registration system is being considered.
In a statement released today, Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs provided details of the “next steps” promised on the use of wild animals in circuses, as well as further considerations on the use of all animals in “mobile animal exhibits”, back in July when a report titled ‘The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses’ commissioned by the Welsh government was published.
Undertaken by Professor Stephen Harris, the 2nd Lord Dulverton Memorial Professor of Environmental Sciences at Bristol University, the report summarises: “The available scientific evidence indicates that captive wild animals in circuses and other travelling animal shows do not achieve their optimal welfare requirements, as set out under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and the evidence would therefore support a ban on using wild animals in travelling circuses and mobile zoos on animal welfare grounds.”
The Harris team consulted 658 experts and organisations around the world including 138 animal trainers/circuses, 206 lawyers/veterinarians with expertise in wild animal welfare, 107 people working for NGOs, 144 biologists, researchers, behavioural and species experts, 58 zoo and wild animal sanctuary staff and relevant government officials and wildlife experts. The comprehensive and expert analysis of scientific evidence found “all five of the ‘freedoms’” are compromised in travelling animal shows. Experts said that circus life for animals is one not “worth living”.
The study included a review of 764 scientific reports and articles that had been peer-reviewed since 2007, following publication of the last UK Government report on the subject. The report noted that there had been “a substantial increase in the amount of information available” since the Government’s last report.
Commissioning the report in December last year Rebecca Evans, then Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, stated that “The Welsh Government believes there is no place for the use of wild animals in circuses”.
A ban on the use of the wild animals in circuses has enormous public support, as well as across the political spectrum. Last October the Welsh Liberal Democrats said “The Welsh Liberal Democrats fully support the introduction of a ban as soon as possible…The Welsh public have been waiting long enough… it is now time for the Welsh Government to bring forward their own proposals so the use of this outdated practice in circuses touring Wales is finally brought to an end.” In March 2016, Shadow Rural Affairs Minister Russell George AM stated “Welsh Conservatives are clear – we would bring forward an outright ban on the use of wild animals in circuses in Wales, as soon as possible… Public support for a ban is exceptionally high, and a Welsh Conservative Government would utilise the powers at Wales’ disposal so our nation joins the growing list of countries across the world to have implemented a ban.”
The issue of animal circuses has become an embarrassing parliamentary saga, with various governments promising to take action since 2006. In 2009, ADI exposed the abuse of elephants with the Great British Circus. The ensuing outrage led to a Defra consultation in 2010 which saw almost 95% of respondents back a ban on wild animal acts. In 2011, ADI exposed how Anne, an elderly elephant with Bobby Roberts Super Circus, was kept permanently chained and physically abused, resulting in a cruelty conviction for her owner. Backbench MPs responded with a unanimous vote for a wild animal ban, and a year later the Government agreed to pass legislation.
A Government bill was drafted in 2013, but has been left to gather dust. In an unprecedented political and parliamentary commitment, for the 2015 General Election the Labour, Conservative, DUP and Green parties all included manifesto commitments to ban wild animals in circuses – 98% of MPs are committed to action.
Three circuses with wild animals have performed in Wales in recent years, Circus Mondao, Peter Jolly’s Circus and an Evening with Lions and Tigers. With no bar to wild animal circuses in place, the door is open to others joining them.
‘An evening with lions and tigers’ toured Wales last year and featured two lions and three tigers forced to perform tricks under the guise of education. The show was prevented from performing in England over welfare failings, and sparked a public outcry, meeting with political opposition, protests and petitions. A recent investigation by ADI recorded at the big cats’ accommodation in Staffordshire, where they have spent the past year, documented the animals confined for the majority of the time to their cages on the back of a truck, with restricted daily access to an outdoor exercise area. On one of the days observed, the lions were not let out at all.
In April 2016, ADI exposed the miserable lives of the animals at Peter Jolly’s Circus when they are not on the road: appalling overcrowding, fighting between animals, a worker spitting in the face of and tormenting a camel, ponies tangled in short tethers, animals crammed in a run-down building for 14 hours a day, some animals shut in the dilapidated building for days on end, on one occasion animals tethered for up to 40 hours, government regulations ignored.
The continued use of wild animals in circuses is opposed by animal welfare experts, animal protection groups, politicians and a huge majority of the public.
The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) has concluded “there is by no means the possibility that their [wild mammals in travelling circuses’] physiological, mental and social requirements can adequately be met.” and the British Veterinary Association that “The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus – in terms of housing or being able to express normal behaviour.” A 2009 research paper co-authored by Professor Harris concluded “the species of non-domesticated animals commonly kept in circuses appear the least suited to a circus life”.
Multiple investigations by ADI in the UK and around the world have exposed the inevitable suffering of animals made to perform and tour with circuses. Given the constant travel and their temporary nature, circuses cannot provide animals with adequate facilities to keep them physically or psychologically healthy. Welfare is inevitably compromised.
Take action to stop circus suffering!
- Avoid circuses that have animal acts, and encourage your friends, family, and colleagues to do the same.
- Speak out when an animal circus comes to town – email us for leaflets and posters.
- In Wales, ask your AM to support a full ban.
- In England contact your MP, in Scotland your MSP, and Ireland your MLA or your TD and urge them to call for action too.
- Donate today and help us campaign for an end to the suffering of animals in circuses.