The biggest animal rights victories of 2015 - and the fights that will continue into the new year

The lives of millions of animals were changed for the better in 2015. These 10 outstanding achievements are proof that when it comes to protecting animals, the animal rights movement is making progress

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The Independent Online

Wild-animal circuses get the boot

Most people have no interest in paying to see miserable, confused wild animals who have been carted across the land to perform a circus routine. And from Cyprus to El Salvador, more and more countries are banning the grim spectacle of wild-animal circuses for good. This year, the Netherlands finalised its ban, bringing the total number of countries that have said goodbye to this abusive "entertainment" to 17. Will the UK follow suit? 

Nepal's Gadhimai Temple Trust promises an end to animal sacrifices

For nearly 300 years, thousands of animals have been beheaded and hacked to death in a gruesome sacrifice during Nepal's Gadhimai festival, which takes place every five years – but no more. The Gadhimai Temple Trust declared that the next festival – slated for 2019 – will be a "momentous celebration of life" with no animal sacrifice allowed. 

The government shelves a fox-hunting vote

After tens of thousands of people made their opposition heard, the government withdrew its attempt to overturn a ban on fox-hunting with more than two dogs – a decision that would have doomed countless animals to the terror of long, exhausting chases that typically end only when they are torn apart.

Ringling Bros. sees the writing on the wall

After a decades-long campaign led by PETA US, Ringling Bros. – a travelling circus that still forces elephants and other animals to perform – finally relented and announced that it would phase out the use of elephants by 2018. This stunning victory spells the beginning of the end of animal use in circuses in the United States.  

Chimpanzees in US laboratories get a reprieve

Following years of campaigns by PETA US and other animal-advocacy groups, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States announced its decision to retire all federally owned chimpanzees from laboratories and to make plans for them to spend the rest of their lives in sanctuaries. For these animals, this day could not have come soon enough.   

Bestiality is banned in Denmark

Denmark joined every other nation in northern Europe when it banned bestiality earlier this year amid fears that the country was becoming a hub for animal-sex tourism. Only three European countries continue to permit the disturbing act.     

New Zealand kicks cosmetics testing on animals to the kerb

Kiwi animals rejoice! After receiving a petition with more than 15,000 signatures, the New Zealand government agreed to amend its Animal Welfare Act specifically to forbid the testing of cosmetics on animals within the country. This will spare animals the pain and terror of having chemicals dripped into their eyes or rubbed on their sensitive skin. Next stop: banning the sale of cosmetics in New Zealand that are tested on animals elsewhere.

Britain takes the first step towards ending all household-product testing on animals

Finished household products like bleach and detergent have not been tested on animals in Britain since 2010, but such tests were not officially banned by the government until this year. This is a necessary first step, but PETA will keep the pressure on until the government goes all the way and also bans tests on animals for household-product ingredients. 

Mumbai says 'neigh' to horse-drawn carriages

Documentation by our affiliate PETA India revealed that horses in Mumbai's carriage industry were frequently denied veterinary care, adequate rest and even water as they were pushed to the point of exhaustion on the city streets. After years of pressure, these relics from a crueller past will finally be phased out.

No orca breeding will be allowed at SeaWorld San Diego if it builds bigger tanks

In an unprecedented move, the California Coastal Commission voted to approve SeaWorld's multimillion-dollar Blue World Project but only with a key amendment: no more breeding of orcas. This means that if SeaWorld goes forward with the project, the orcas currently captive in its tanks will be the last in California.

What's next for 2016?

In Britain and abroad, there is still much work to be done. Billions of cows, pigs, chickens and other animals are suffering right now on factory farms. Fish and marine mammals are confined for life to tiny tanks in aquariums, and endangered animals are shot to death in Africa so that wealthy foreigners can hang their heads on the wall. Many more animals need our help. But as these 10 victories show, the world is starting to become a kinder place.