Government proposals to ban all wild animals from travelling circuses should be watered down to allow zebras, camels, reindeer and snakes to stay on the road, MPs have recommended.
The report argues that many wild circus animals should continue to ply their trade since they are domesticated in other countries or being employed quite happily in other walks of life – such as the Britain’s Got Talent TV show.
But it agreed that big cats and elephants should be banned.
“The days when it was appropriate to have animals like lions, tigers or elephants travelling with circuses are long past,” said Anne MacIntosh, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA), adding that the ban should end there.
“It is not clear that there is a material difference between those who keep wild birds for falconry displays and those who keep such birds for displays in a circus,” found the report into a draft government bill which proposes to ban all wild animals from England from December 2015, with a view to later extending it across the UK.
“Nor is the difference clear between having a display involving a raccoon in a circus or a raccoon in an act on Britain’s Got Talent,” the report added.
Ms MacIntosh said she saw “little sense” in banning snakes and parrots when they could be bought in pet shops and held in domestic captivity, and pointed out that camels are allowed to race in the UK. Meanwhile, the logistics of keeping and transporting zebras are very similar to those of horses, which are routinely moved around, she said.
Ms MacIntosh said she was well aware that public opinion overwhelmingly supports an outright ban on wild animals in the circus, but believes this consensus stems from a mistaken perception that large numbers of elephant s and big cats are still used in performances by travelling circuses.
In fact there are no circuses using elephants and big cats since the Great British Circus stopped touring last year.
A total of 21 wild animals work in the UK, at just two travelling circuses. Circus Mondao has two camels, two reindeer and two zebra, while Peter Jolly’s Circus has a camel, a fox, a raccoon, four reindeer, six snakes , a zebra and an ankole – a breed of cattle with enormous horns up to 2.4m across.
The cruel treatment of Anne, an Asian elephant, was one of the factors behind MPs’ support for a ban. An undercover film showed her being kicked and hit by a groom at Bobby Roberts Supercircus. Roberts was found guilty last year of causing unnecessary suffering to a performing elephant. He was given a three-year conditional discharge.
The committee recommends that the government revise the bill to narrow the ban to all big cat species such as lions and tigers, and elephants, giving the secretary of state powers to amend the list in the future to reflect “prevailing social and cultural attitudes” or if other species of wild animal is introduced into circuses.
A spokesman for the Department for Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Agriculture said: “We will be carefully looking at the points raised by the Committee.”