To paraphrase Mark Twain, news of the death of wild animal circuses in England may at best be said to be “exaggerated”.
It would probably be premature to rejoice over the UK government’s announcement today (Thursday 1 March) that it “will seek to introduce primary legislation at the earliest opportunity to achieve its much stated desire to ban travelling circuses from using performing wild animals.”
While obviously to be welcomed, the statement fails to answer the crucial question of when the long-awaited ban is to be brought in. And if it is really on its way, why does the government intend to invest time and money on a complex licensing scheme, rather than moving straight into preparation for a ban?
All that has actually happened today is the publication of a consultation document on a proposed licensing scheme for circuses in England. While the “eventual aim” is to pursue a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses on ethical grounds, the document stresses that views are not being sought on the possibility of a ban.
The document continues:
“The precise detail of a ban must be carefully thought through to ensure it has the intended effect. This will take time. In the meantime, this consultation is about a proposed licensing regime that would include strict welfare standards and that could be introduced within months.
“Knowledge gained from operating the proposed licensing scheme may be used to supplement the evidence base on the welfare standards of travelling circuses in England for any future policy considerations.”
OneKind certainly welcomes the fact that the government now has a ban in contemplation. But what if the interim introduction of a licensing scheme risked actually delaying the introduction of a full ban? A ban is what the public wants, and to reassure them – and us - at this point, there is a need for greater clarity. At the very least, we require clear information about the timescale for implementation of the ban, a clear explanation of how the interim regulations will be handled and phased out, and a clear commitment that the government will work with key stakeholders to ensure that the process goes smoothly.
National measures to prohibit or limit the use of animals in circuses have already been adopted in Bolivia, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Peru, Portugal, Sweden, Singapore, Costa Rica, India and Israel and similar laws are being discussed in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Greece.
North of the border, OneKind has been lobbying the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to ban circuses with wild animals. The Scottish Government is awaiting advice from its legal officers before deciding how to proceed. Meanwhile, OneKind continues to encourage local authorities to reflect public opinion, and last month was successful in persuading East Ayrshire Council to ban all animal circuses from its land.
At present, there are three travelling circuses with wild animals operating in England, making use of an estimated 39 wild animals. A DEFRA public consultation on animal circuses in England, carried out in 2009, resulted in a huge 94.5% public support for a ban. The newly -proposed regulations are expected to cover issues raised in the previous consultation, including accommodation, transport, training, performance, diet and veterinary care.
Action for animals or a route to delay? See the consultation at
and let us know what you think.