Harvey Locke: These shows can never meet creatures' needs

Related Topics

At any one time the British Veterinary Association (BVA) is dealing with many serious animal welfare issues. Slaughter without stunning, genetic problems in dogs, lameness in cattle, to mention just a few. All of which cause suffering in thousands, if not millions, of individual animals.

When the Labour Government consulted the public in December 2009 on whether or not to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses it made it clear that, at the latest count, there were just 38 individual animals in four travelling circuses in the country.

So why is the veterinary profession so concerned about this issue?

In response to the consultation the BVA strongly supported a ban because we believe the welfare of these 38 animals is emblematic of the way we treat all animals under the care of humans.

In 2006 the Animal Welfare Act enshrined into law what we know as ‘the five welfare needs’ – the need for a suitable environment, for a suitable diet, to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, to have suitable companionship, and to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Under this framework it is hard to see how the needs of non-domesticated, wild animals can be met within the environment of a travelling circus; especially in terms of accommodation and the ability to express normal behaviour.

These animals, including lions, tigers, elephants, and zebras, have not been selectively bred for traits that would increase suitability for life in a captive environment. They spend the majority of their days confined in spaces that are much smaller than those recommended for the same species in zoos.

These spaces lack environmental enrichment and do not allow the animals to perform species-specific natural behaviour. When an animal is prevented from performing the normal behaviours that they are highly motivated to perform it can lead to stereotypic behaviour, such as pacing and swaying. It is widely accepted that this is a clear indication of poor welfare.

Many of the species we’re dealing with have high levels of intelligence and yet they spend just 1-9 per cent of their time engaged in performance and training activities – not enough to provide any meaningful mental stimulation.

Other factors associated with circuses, such as loud noise and the presence of human crowds, are likely to be stressful for non-domesticated animals. And inappropriate handling and training methods can cause pain and suffering, as witnessed in the recent case of Anne the elephant.

Unlike well-run zoos, which can contribute to conservation and education as well as being visitor attractions, circus animals exist solely to entertain people. Therefore, the ‘benefits’ of using wild animals in circuses simply do not justify the possible welfare risks.

It would be easy to dismiss this campaign and question the value of legislating to protect such a small number of animals. But fashions change and there is no guarantee that the number of wild animals in circuses won’t increase in the future.

Only last month in Parliament Defra Minister Jim Paice estimated that the number has already risen to “approximately 50”. It’s time to act now.

The veterinary position on this issue is grounded in our deep understanding of animals, but we’re not ignorant of the political arguments. In response to Labour’s consultation a massive 94.5 per cent of the 10,500 respondents agreed with a complete ban. It’s no secret that Defra under the Coalition was badly bruised by the forests issue. Surely it could do with an easy policy win that enjoys huge public support.

Harvey Locke is the president of the British Veterinary Association

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: A royal serving the nation

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko prior to the start of the European Council Summit in Brussels last month  

David Cameron talks big but is waving a small stick at the Russian bear

Kim Sengupta
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn