Actress gives backing to campaign to ban wild animals performing in circuses

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Virginia McKenna, the actress who played the conservationist Joy Adamson in the film ‘Born Free’, has given her backing to
The Independent’s campaign to ban wild animals from circuses.

Animal welfare groups began to fear the Government would not press ahead with a ban last month when it failed to announce one during the outrage over footage showing a trainer at Bobby Roberts Super Circus beating Anne the Elephant with a pitchfork. Anne was taken in by Longleat wildlife park in Wiltshire and Bobby Roberts Super Circus has re-homed its only other wild animal, a camel.

Around 20 animals perform in British circuses, including five tigers.

Ms McKenna said: “After the shocking images of Anne, the elephant, being beaten by her ‘handler’ at Bobby Roberts Super Circus, the Government must not hesitate in banning the use of wild animals in circuses for one second more.”

She added: “Have our ministers and Defra civil servants actually considered the circus life that a lion, a tiger, an elephant, a bear must endure – confined for endless hours in a trailer or beast wagon, rattled round the country from town to town to perform mindless tricks while blaring music and dazzling lights conspire to make the public ignore the reality of life behind the ‘show’”?

Ms McKenna and her husband Bill Travers played Joy and George Adamson in the 1966 British drama Born Free, which depicted how a British couple in Kenya raised an orphaned lion cub, Elsa, and returned her into the wild.

She and Mr Travers subsequently founded the Born Free Foundation, which rescues lions, tigers and leopards from small cages and campaigns against the hunting of big cats for ‘sport’ and the trade in elephant tusks.

The Born Free Foundation, the RSPCA, British Veterinary Association and the Captive Animals’ Protection Society are backing the Independent’s campaign. Public support for a ban has ranged between 63 per and 80 per cent during the past decade. Ninety-four per cent of responses to a Government consultation last year were in favour of a ban.

Ms McKenna said: “If the Government hasn’t thought it through, the public has – more than nine out of ten of us say a resounding no to the continued exploitation of wild animals in circuses in the name of so-called ‘entertainment’.”

“We are told that the Coalition is a ‘listening’ government,” she added.

“Well, please listen now. The animals and the public have waited long enough. The debate is over. The end to this suffering, exploitation and abuse is long overdue. Let’s have the jugglers, the clowns, the acrobats and let the music blare away, but let the animals follow Anne into a kinder and more compassionate future.”

Labour failed to enact a ban before the general election, but made a ban a manifesto pledge at the 2010 general election. The Liberal Democrats are also in favour of a ban.

Ms McKenna’s son Will Travers, chief executive of Born Free, said both Labour and Coalition governments had dithered over the issue.

He said: “The previous administration was ponderous and lacklustre on this issue and we were waiting for years – and this administration have taken an inordinate time period to deal with this.

“Lord Henley [a Defra minister] said: ‘Give me the summer recess to mug up and get my head around it.’ September came around and [Defra minister] James Paice rather scoffed at the notion it would take until Christmas, and then Christmas came and went. In January we heard from a Defra official that they were hoping for an early decision – and nothing has happened.”

Mr Travers added: “It’s really hard to understand why there has been the delay. Originally there was some debate about whether this would require primary legislation. Born Free, RSPCA, CAPS and Animal Defenders International all put this separately to counsel and they all came back and said: ‘You don’t need primary legislation - this can be done under the secondary powers available to the minister.’

“We have got overwhelming public opinion and we have had the undercover footage showing the beating of Anne the elephant, but that was around the beginning of April. When is the Government going to do the right thing and bring this curtain down?”

For more information on the Born Free Foundation visit www.bornfree.org.uk

To sign the petition calling for a ban on wild animals in circuses visit: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/circusanimals

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