Ministers will today dash hopes of an immediate ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
Despite a unanimous vote by MPs for the practice to be outlawed, they will instead set out plans to create a licensing regime to ensure animals are well treated.
The moves were condemned by the campaign group Animal Defenders International (ADI) as "yet another stalling tactic while animals continue to suffer".
More than 30,000 people signed an Independent petition last year following the disclosure that Downing Street had vetoed the idea of a ban. Surveys suggest overwhelming public support for the move.
But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said it cannot outlaw the use of animals because of "potential legal obstacles".
It will today set out its proposed licensing scheme – and announce consultation over the details. Animal-welfare charities are likely to react with anger as they support an outright ban.
Jan Creamer, ADI's chief executive, said: "It is appalling that public and parliamentary wishes are cast aside in such a cavalier manner."