U.K. to ban wild animal acts from circuses

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  July/August 2011:

LONDON–The United Kingdom appears to be poised to join a growing number of nations which have banned wild animals from circuses.

Defying Prime Minister David Cameron,  the U.K. House of Commons on June 23,  2011 unanimously endorsed a resolution stating that “This House directs the Government to use its powers under Section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to introduce a regulation banning the use of all wild animals in circuses,  to take effect by 1 July 2012.”

Cameron,  a Conservative,  opposed the resolution,  which was introduced by Conservative Member of Parliament Mark Pritchard. “Pritchard made a principled and passionate stand,”  lauded Animal Aid.  “Pritchard revealed that prior to the debate he had been contacted by Cameron’s office and offered incentives,”  reportedly including a more influential Parliamentary portfolio,  “if he didn’t call for a ban.

When he refused,”  Animal Aid continued,  “he was told that unless he withdrew the motion,  the Prime Minister would look upon it ‘very dimly indeed.’   Despite these threats, he stuck by his principles and secured an important victory for animal welfare.”

Affirmed London Independent consumer affairs correspondent Martin Hickman. “Conservative whips had warned they would impose the most serious parliamentary voting sanction,  a three-line whip,  to bring recalcitrant backbenchers to heel and get them to support the Government’s alternative proposal of a licensing system.  Downing Street backed down,”  Hickman said,  “when it became apparent that it would lose.”

“If at the end of this debate the House were to approve this motion,   then of course we will have to respect that,”  pledged agriculture minister Jim Paice shortly before the vote.

Wrote Hickman,  “The Government had initially planned to ban wild animals from circuses,  but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was forced to do a U-turn,  and instead proposed a licensing system,  after Cameron,  a keen hunter and shooter,  blocked the move.  Paice blamed a court challenge to a ban in Austria for the decision,  but there was no court challenge.  He was forced to admit during an emergency debate,  called because of the misinformation,  that he had misled the Commons. The Government’s subsequent claim that a ban could be challenged under the Human Rights Act or the EU Services Directive was challenged by lawyers and the European Commission.”

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman presented the licensing proposal in May 2011,  citing the alleged Austrian court action,  but the proposal was rejected by the British Veterinary Association,  as well as by the Royal SPCA,  Born Free Foundation, Captive Animals Protection Society,  and other animal advocacy organizations.

More than 32,000 readers signed an Independent online petition in support of the circus animal ban,  Hickman said.

“About 20 exotic animals,  including tigers,  zebras, camels and pythons,  are still used by three circuses–the Great British Circus,  Peter Jolly’s Circus and Circus Mondao,  all of which say they are well cared for,”  Hickman reported in May 2011.

Commented Animal Defenders International chief executive Jan Creamer,  “Politicians have now sent a clear instruction to the Government and they should now proceed with a ban.”

A May 2011 online poll done for ADI by the YouGov agency found 72% favor for banning wild animals from circuses,  against opposition from only 8%.  That was actually a decrease in support from a 2010 survey by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,  which found 94.5% public support for such a ban.
Opposition to animal use in British circuses ignited in February 2009 when the Great British Circus introduced the first circus elephant act to be exhibited in the British Isles in more than 10 years.  The issue heated up in April 2011 when Animal Defenders International released to the Daily Mail an undercover video of a worker beating,  kicking,  and jabbing an elephant named Anne at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus winter quarters.  Anne had belonged to the Roberts Circus since 1957.  Amid the ensuing media furor,  Anne was transferred to an organization called Specialist Wildlife Services, and then retired to the Longleat Safari Park.

Other nations

The British Parliamentary resolution passed about two months after the Greek government introduced a bill which would ban circus animal acts at the same time as  introducing felony cruelty penalties.

“The Greek government has been debating the bill since 2009 after a circus trainer was shown on TV beating an elephant with a stick,”  reported RIA Novosti.

“Six countries–Austria,  Croatia, Israel,  Bolivia,  Costa Rica and Singapore –have already banned all wild animals in circuses.  Partial bans are in place in the Czech Republic,  Denmark, Finland,  Sweden and India,”  reported Hickman of The Independent.

Global momentum toward banning wildlife from circuses started on May 1,  2001 when the Supreme Court of India upheld former Indian national animal welfare minister Maneka Gandhi’s contention that capturing bears,  monkeys,  lions,  and tigers for exhibition was outlawed in India by the Wild Life Protection Act 1972.

More than 280 lions,  40 tigers,  and scores of aging ex-performing bears were thereafter retired to six Central Zoo Authority-accredited Animal Rescue Centres,  where they are living out their lives off exhibit.  On November 9,  2009 the CZA decreed that elephants may no longer be exhibited by zoos and circuses,  but this order has not been enforced,  chiefly because there are few other places for captive elephants to go.
Bolivia banned animal circuses in July 2009,  but did not provide for the animals who could no longer be exhibited.  Animal Defenders International in June 2010 and February 2011 flew 28 former Bolivian circus lions to new homes at the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center in Keenesburg,  Colorado,   and at the Performing Animal Welfare sanctuary near Galt,  California.

Peru,  Brazil,  Chile,  and Colombia are also reportedly considering bans on wildlife use in circuses,  based on model legislation drafted by Animal Defenders International and promoted in South America since circa 2007.

In China,  the Ministry of Housing and Urban/Rural Development,  responsible for zoo regulation,  on October 26,  2010 “suggested” that zoos should stop staging circus-like trained animal acts,  including feeding live prey to carnivores,  because “These activities go against the public good.”  The “suggestion” was addressed to more than 700 Chinese animal exhibition facilities.

The U.S.,  Canada,  Australia and New Zealand have no federal or state legislation prohibiting wild animal use in circuses,  but local ordinances to similar effect have been enacted in many communities.

The last circus elephant performing in New Zealand was retired to the Franklin Zoo in Tukau in December 2009.  The last circus elephant performing in Australia was retired to property owned by the Perry Brothers Circus in March 2011.

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