19 January 2006

Ban on circus animals urged by welfare groups

Belfast Telegraph

By Jonathan Brown
19 January 2006

Welfare groups are demanding a ban on the use of wild animals in British circuses. Campaigners say they have the overwhelming support of the public in their quest to outlaw performing big cats, elephants, camels, zebras and snakes from the Big Top.

A report published by the Born Free Foundation and the RSPCA to coincide with a call for action yesterday identified three circuses - Bobby Roberts Super Circus, the Great British Circus and Jolly's Circus - that continued to use wild animals. It said the animals' welfare was under threat because of the constraints of circus life, with continuous travelling, loading and unloading followed by stressful performances involving "postural tricks and manoeuvres".

The organisations are urging a cross-party standing committee of MPs currently debating the Animal Welfare Bill to end the practice and bring the UK into line with other countries. The foreword of the report was written by the former MP Tony Banks, a passionate supporter of animal rights, who died earlier this month. It argues that the rigours of the circus lifestyle provide insufficient scope for exercise, while animals are forced to live in unstimulating and cramped conditions on the road. The authors also claimed to have uncovered evidence of tethering or chaining. They said animals endured excessive noise during performances suffered from a lack of privacy and ran the risk of physiological and mental stress.

It is estimated that seven tigers, five lions, an Asian elephant, an American black bear, eight camels, and three zebras currently perform in British circuses. Among the "tricks" they do are leaping through hoops, drinking milk from a bottle and posing for photographs.

Virginia McKenna, co-founder of the Born Free Foundation, said: "I am appalled that in this day and age we have to resort to the exploitation of wild animals in this way for so-called entertainment. Animals should be admired for achievements in the context of their natural habitat and not made objects of ridicule."

David Bowles, the RSPCA's head of external affairs, said the Government was wrong when it argued that the new welfare offence proposed in the Bill would prevent most wild animals from being used by circuses. He said: "We remain unconvinced of this, due to the problems of accessing circus winter quarters, training sessions, or temporary sites - except at the owners' invitation, when what is witnessed may not be indicative of the norm."

Circus owners have argued against the ban and called for the Government to establish a more rigorous independent monitoring regime. Malcolm Clay, of the Circus Proprietors Association, said only a "vociferous minority" opposed the use of animals. He said the majority of the public believed they should be allowed to continue to be used, provided there were adequate welfare checks. The present welfare monitoring system is voluntary.

"The circus industry is quite certain it can justify the use of these animals, the way they are looked after and the way they are treated. It is not for the RSPCA in its political guise to make these demands," he said. "We call on the Government to license circus animal trainers backed by inspection from independent vets appointed by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs."

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