'The Cruellest Show on Earth' is coming to an end – so why won't the UK government take action on animal circuses?

The lack of any action to help animals suffering in British circuses prompted MPs to vote in 2011 to instruct the government to hurry up and introduce legislation to stop the cruelty. Six years on, and circus animals remain unprotected 

Mimi Bekhechi@mimi_bekhechi
Wednesday 18 January 2017 10:59
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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending, after a 150 year run
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending, after a 150 year run

After an almost 150 year run, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus – North America's longest-running animal circus – is finally packing up and leaving town, never to return. While the sordid and exploitative "freak shows" of the Victorian era have long been a thing of the past, the use and abuse of animals in circuses has gone on for far too long.

The news that what many called the "Cruellest Show on Earth" is closing shop because of plummeting ticket sales is a sign of what's to come for other businesses and industries that profit from animals' misery.

The vast majority of people today agree that all animals – whether feathered, furry, or finned, on two legs, four legs, or no legs – experience emotions, just as we do. Watching elephants stand on their heads isn't very amusing when you know that they were torn from their mothers as babies and repeatedly beaten and intimidated into doing whatever their trainers wanted, no matter how much it hurt. As we've come to understand the profound suffering that animals endure in captivity, it's no wonder that we've stopped buying tickets to these sadistic spectacles.

Today, many countries around the world are banning wild-animal acts because they now recognise them for what they are: cruel. Shamefully, judging by our government's unwillingness to take action, it seems that this nation of animal lovers may well be the very last to follow suit – but it's not because the British people aren't demanding it.

Back in 2010, after years of mounting pressure from the public and every animal welfare group in the country, the government agreed to carry out a consultation to address the question of a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. Even though 95 per cent of respondents made it clear that they wanted to see a complete ban on wild-animal acts, the government did nothing.

The lack of any action to help the lions, tigers, and other animals who continue to suffer in British circuses prompted MPs to vote in 2011 to instruct the government to hurry up and introduce legislation to stop the cruelty. And even though the government then promised that a ban would be on the books by January 2015, here it is 2017, and we're still waiting and animals are still suffering.

Circus ties endangered tiger to table with rope so customers can ride it

Since January 2015, more than a dozen private members' bills have been tabled and blocked. In politics, few issues are so clear-cut and have as much public support as the promised ban to end the use of wild animals in circuses. It's astounding that the will of the majority has been subverted for so long by so few.

The truth is that even as the government continues to drag its feet, the writing is on the wall for animal circuses here, just as it was for Ringling – and the few outfits that are still desperately hauling chained and caged animals around the country know it. But every day that the ban is delayed is a day of sadness, fear, and frustration for the animals unlucky enough to be possessed and exploited by the handful of circuses still in business – and PETA won't stop campaigning until every single one of them has been pulled off the road. I hope you'll join us.

Mimi Bekhechi is the Director of International Programmes at PETA

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