Scottish Nationalists may ignore the “strong legal advice” given to the UK Government and introduce a ban on wild animals in circuses north of the border, according to officials.
A spokeswoman for the SNP administration said ministers would decide this summer whether to include a ban in Scotland’s next annual legislative programme in September, despite warnings from Westminster than a ban might provoke a legal challenge.
The statement follows a passionate debate in Hollywood in which SNP, Labour and Green MSPs criticised successive failures to bar tigers and other creatures from the big top, prompting the Scottish Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson to say their continued use was “unacceptable.”
Promising he would look for a way to resolve the issue, Mr Stevenson said: “The dilemma for ministers is how a ban could be introduced.”
As reported in The Independent, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Westminister has rejected a ban in favour of a licensing system.
Circuses that use around 20 wild animals such as tigers and zebras say they are well-treated, but animal welfare organisations – and now a growing ban of celebrity campaigners – say a life of small enclosures and training and travelling mean they should be re-homed to wildlife parks and sanctuaries.
The animal welfare group Animal Defenders’ International has recruited several leading public figures to pressure the Government into introducing a ban. The comedian Ricky Gervais said: “I am appalled that wild animals are still kept in circuses and fully support the call for a ban. It is high time that Government got on and implemented one.”
Actors Brian Blessed and John Nettles, the BBC disc jockey Mark Radcliffe, the comedian Alexei Sayle and the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, made similar comments. Zephaniah said: “There are so many ways that intelligent human beings can have fun, and exploiting animals should not be one of them. Beautiful animals are not for our entertainment, in fact it’s our duty to respect and protect them. I am a real animal lover and I would never go to a circus that had wild animals.”
The Queen guitarist Brian May, also encouraged to speak out by ADI, said: “The use of wild animals in circuses is cruel, distasteful and unacceptable in the 21st century. Our present government is currently backing away from ending this abhorrent practice.”
Separately, the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) has enlisted the pop singer Jay Kay, from Jamiroquai. He said: “That circuses in this country are still forcing majestic animals, such as lions and tigers, to perform degrading tricks for cheap laughs is a saddening thought – but that the government are actively allowing it to continue against the will of the public, the experts and its own ministers simply beggars belief.”
CAPS director Liz Tyson said: “As England continues to hide behind perceived legal impediments, it will be interesting to see if our closest neighbours take the decision that Westminster seems determined to avoid, and make the right decision for the animals by imposing a ban.”
Animal welfare groups including the RSPCA and British Veterinary Association are backing The Independent’s campaign calling for Government ministers to rethink their decision. More than 26,000 people have signed the newspaper’s online petition. To sign visit independent.co.uk/circus animals.