Campaigners demand ban on wild animals in circuses

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The Independent Online

The use of wild animals in circuses must stop, campaigners said today.

The Born Free Foundation and the RSPCA called for "Big Top exploitation" to be banned in the Animal Welfare Bill, currently being debated by a cross-party standing committee of MPs.

The organisations argue in a new report that the welfare of animals cannot be guaranteed because of the operational constraints of circus life - travelling, performance, loading and unloading.

Seven tigers, five lions, an Asian elephant, an American black bear, eight camels, and three zebra are among animals still kept in three UK circuses, they say.

David Bowles, RSPCA head of external affairs, said: "The only way to end the welfare problems associated with the ludicrous spectacle of wild animals prancing around the Big Top is to ban the practice outright - as has already happened in Austria, Costa Rica, Israel and Singapore.

"The Government has argued that the new welfare offence proposed in the Animal Welfare Bill will prevent most wild animals from being used by circuses.

"However, we remain unconvinced of this, due to the problems of accessing circus winter quarters, training sessions, or temporary sites - except at the owners' invitation, when what is witnessed may not be indicative of the norm."

The organisations said the report found cramped conditions for animals, restricted movement due to tethering or chaining, repeated and extended transportation, and repeated loading and unloading.

The report's foreword is written by the late Lord Stratford (Tony Banks), who passionately wished to see the end of animals in circuses, and it is dedicated to his memory, they said.

Virginia McKenna, co-founder of the Born Free Foundation, said: "I am appalled that in this day and age we have to resort to the exploitation of wild animals in this way for so-called entertainment.

"Animals should be admired for their achievements in the context of their natural habitat and not made the objects of ridicule.

"In my view, the Animal Welfare Bill, as it stands, may let down circus animals in a fundamental way and an opportunity to reform this aspect of legislation, that is nearly 100 years old, will have been missed, to our everlasting shame."