Dr Ros Clubb: Government is out of touch on circus animals

Circuses represent an important traditional form of entertainment and culture but the days when it was acceptable to haul wild animals around in beastwagons to be gawped at and to entertain with unnatural tricks are long gone. Society has moved on, as has our understanding of what animals need.

Members of the public have consistently expressed a preference to stop using wild animals in travelling circuses and anecdotally many people are shocked the practice remains legal in the England. In this respect we lag far behind the five countries that have already banned the practice (Austria, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Israel and Singapore) and the 13 others that place restrictions on the types of animals that can be used (e.g. Bulgaria, Portugal, Slovakia).

The Government can be in no doubt where opinion lies. Of more than 10,500 analysed responses to its 2010 consultation, 94% favoured a ban, including representatives of zoo and veterinary professions . Perhaps another clear indicator is the overwhelming public response to the plight of Anne the elephant – the last elephant touring with a UK circus – who was recently moved to Longleat Safari Park. Times have changed and the public are more aware and demanding than ever of animal welfare standards.

Thanks to the field of animal welfare science we now have a far greater understanding of the factors that affect animals, both physically and psychologically. General conditions that align with good welfare across a wide range of species include freedom of movement; opportunities to perform highly motivated natural behaviours, like foraging or dust-bathing; enriched, complex and stimulating surroundings; having control over situations, such as being able to escape from frightening events like crowds or loud noises and the avoidance, where possible, of generally stressful experiences, such as transportation.

Such principles, and those from emerging science, are taken into account in all good modern animal care systems. Yet even with the best will in the world, such conditions are not feasible in travelling circuses, particularly for the most commonly used species.

In marked contrast, circus life for these animals consists of being housed in beastwagons (restricted to the maximum size of lorry permitted on roads) and small barren temporary enclosures for 90-99% of the day; enclosures are, on average, a quarter the size of those recommended for zoos . Some animals are simply tethered to a peg in the ground, unable to move beyond a few meters or socialise with others.

Loading and transport, which are well known stressful events even for experienced animals, occur on a weekly basis for the 5-10 months circuses travel around the country. The few researchers granted access to circuses report high levels of behaviours indicative of a welfare problem during transport: tigers repeatedly pace back and forth while elephants weave from side to side.

Making wild animals endure such conditions purely for our entertainment is no longer justifiable and existing legislation is not sufficient. With no prospect of improving conditions to an acceptable standard, mainly due to the constraints of travelling from site to site, it is high time the Government committed as others have done to end the practice in England once and for all.

Dr Ros Clubb is the Senior Scientific Officer at the Wildlife Department of the RSPCA

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments