Despite exciting news reaching us that the Netherlands looks set to ban wild animals in circuses, the UK Government remains poised to introduce regulations to license wild animals in travelling circuses in England.
Over the last week, two key debates have taken place in Parliament regarding these unnecessary regulations. On 24th October, Minister for Animal Welfare, Lord de Mauley, introduced the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012 in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords. Under tough questioning from Lord Knight of Weymouth among others, the Minister was unable to provide a satisfactory answer as to whether the regulations would actually be enforceable or not. Furthermore, he appeared content that the regulations would controversially introduce ‘two-tier’ standards for animals such as elephants. For example, under the new regulations, elephants in circuses will be subject to lower standards in relation to enclosure size, social grouping and the use of chains than the same species in a zoo.
This inconsistent and unjustifiable position appears to be based on Defra’s belief that circuses can offer wild animals more exercise and enrichment than zoos – a position that simply cannot be justified if the opinions expressed in the 2007 Government-commissioned Radford Report (the Government’s go-to-when-it-suits-them document) are to be believed. Radford reported that “The Academic Panel concluded that there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments”.
On 29th October, in a General Committee in the House of Commons, Commons Minister David Heath confidently and mistakenly assured MPs that a ban on ethical grounds had been included in the Queen’s Speech: it had not. The same confusion that characterised the debate in the House of Lords continued, with conflicting and unclear responses from the Minister to questions from MPs including Tom Harris, Mark Pritchard, Ian Paisley Jr, Kerry McCarthy, Chris Williamson and Thomas Docherty. Minister Heath has had a rough ride recently – on badgers, ash tree fungus and more.
Overall, we remain cautiously optimistic that the Government will eventually follow through on its promise to introduce legislation to ban wild animals in travelling circuses on ethical grounds; but in the meantime, we are convinced that the measures being introduced to licence and regulate the use of wild animals in circuses until a ban is brought in are flawed and send entirely the wrong message to the industry. We await a response from the Minister to a request to meet with him alongside our partners from the RSPCA, British Veterinary Association and the Captive Animals’ Protection Society.
Now that the Netherlands looks set to join other EU Member States such Austria and Greece in introducing a ban on wild animals in travelling circuses we simply have one question: why doesn’t the UK Government listen to reason and make a ban their priority, rather than getting bogged down in an unworkable, unpopular and apparently temporary licensing regime? They claim that there may be no Parliamentary time to bring a ban in before 2015 but that claim does not stand up to scrutiny. It seems time is not the issue – political will is.