Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Born Free Statement on the Regulation of Wild Animals in Circuses

15 December 2011

Categories: Homepage News

Born Free Statement: Animal Welfare Groups Boycott Defra Meeting on the Regulation of Wild Animals in Circuses – What next?

Leading animal welfare groups have rejected an offer from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to attend a meeting about plans to license the use of wild animals in circuses.

Groups including the Born Free Foundation, the RSPCA, Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS), WSPA, OneKind and Four Paws are convinced that an outright ban is the only way to properly address the welfare problems associated with the use of wild animals like elephants, lions and tigers by travelling circuses.

They are outraged that the Government has ignored both public opinion and the clear view of the House of Commons which, following a comprehensive debate in June, unanimously voted in favour of a ban.
The Government claims that advice it has received suggests that a ban might be open to challenge under European legislation, although details of that advice have been kept secret.

Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, said: “If the Prime Minister is willing to stand up for what he believes to be right (for example in his use of the Eurozone veto in the last few days), the Government should champion what the PM, his Ministers, Parliament and the British people overwhelmingly support - a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses”.

Defra, seemingly oblivious to the mood of the country, are pressing ahead with the introduction of a licensing system by July 2012 and were hoping to secure the input of animal welfare groups at the now defunct meeting, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, 14th December.

However, the Government seems to be determined to misrepresent the position of Born Free and certain other groups.

In a written response to a question (12th December) from Fiona O’Donnell MP who asked “which bodies are advising her Department on the proposals for a licensing scheme for wild animals in circuses”, Environment Minister Jim Paice replied: “Defra has had, or will shortly have, discussions on our proposals for a licensing scheme for wild animals in circuses with the RSPCA, Animal Defenders International, Born Free, CAPS and PAWSI.”

This is inaccurate, as Will Travers explained in a subsequent letter to Defra of 14th December in which he stated: “We have all had meetings (many, many) on the subject of wild animals in circuses but the question specifically asks about meetings relating to the licensing of the use of wild animals in circus and the answer again refers specifically to that subject.

Apart from broad and non-specific mention of licensing, I am not aware that any of us have engaged at that level of granularity on this issue whereas the reply given by Mr Paice would strongly indicate that on the subject of the proposals for a licensing scheme we have had or will have ‘discussions’.


I don’t think this is semantics and I would ask that the Minister issue a clarification on this matter and confirm also that RSPCA, CAPS and Born Free at least have specifically declined discussions on this subject as we do not believe this to be the appropriate way forward.

As it stands, Members of the House reading Hansard would be quite right in wrongly believing that we are or have been discussing ‘proposals for a licensing scheme’ with the implicit meaning being that we are engaged in that process. We are not.”


Born Free is not advising Defra on proposals for licensing circuses.  Our advice to Defra is to abandon its plans for licensing the use of wild animals in travelling circuses and to focus its efforts – efforts we would then be happy to support – on addressing and removing the perceived legal obstacles to a ban which would end this form of animal exploitation once and for all.

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