Born Free has campaigned for decades for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses in the UK.
Although the number of circuses with wild animals and the number of wild animals used by circuses has declined in recent years, people in the UK don’t realise that the use of wild animals in circuses is still legal in parts of the UK. This is despite overwhelming public and parliamentary support for a ban.
In the UK, animal welfare is a devolved issue. This means that laws relating to animal welfare are developed and made by the relevant national parliaments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, rather than across the entire UK. This, in turn, means that legislation governing the use of wild animals in circuses differs between UK member countries.
In July 2019, the UK government passed a law banning the the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England.
Dr Chris Draper, Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, said: "Born Free has been at the forefront of efforts to ban wild animals from circuses across the UK for decades, and it is with great relief we welcome this important news. We have been stalled and stymied by successive governments, but finally the right action has been taken to prevent the abuse of wild animals in circuses."
Virginia McKenna OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder & Trustee added: “There can be few people who will not rejoice at the news that the government's much-delayed decision to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses has received Royal Assent and passed into law. At Born Free, we have been consistently trying to achieve this for many years, since our participation in the Parliamentary Circus Working Group in the mid 1990's. In fact, my first letter to former Prime Minister David Cameron on the subject was written over 10 years ago. At last it has brought an end to the prospect of life in the circus being inflicted on captive wild animals in the name of entertainment. I hope this will be the first step towards the banning of all forms of animal exploitation for fun.”
The Wild Animals and Circuses (Wales) Bill was introduced to the National Assembly on 8th July 2019.
It represents a significant step in the right direction for wild animal welfare in the country.
Dr Chris Draper, Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, said: "The use of wild animals in travelling circuses is outdated and unpopular and this legislation will bring Wales into line with a long and increasing list of countries which have banned this practice."
Wild animals in travelling circuses have been banned in Scotland since May 2018. Scotland was the first country in the UK to outlaw the practice.
The ban came into force on 28th May 2018, marking a successful end to a long campaign by Born Free and campaign partners including OneKind and Freedom for Animals.
Northern Ireland has not yet made any firm commitment on the use of wild animals in circuses, but Born Free has met with officials to highlight why a ban is necessary. Northern Irish MLAs have stated that they are keen to take a joined up approach with the Republic of Ireland.
In November 2017, the Republic of Ireland announced that it would be introducing a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses in January 2018, giving Born Free hope that Northern Ireland will follow suit.
Unfortunately, following a change in government in May 2016, and significant political unrest since that time, the current lack of a properly functioning parliament in Northern Ireland means that how or when action might be taken remains unclear.
Born Free continues to monitor this issue and will resume talks with relevant officials as soon as it is practical.