Circus big cat shows are history in Ireland

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  July-August 2013:

LIMERICK,  Ireland––“Some of you who have been to our show over the last few days may have noticed that we no longer have lions and tigers in the show,”   Tom Duffy’s Circus owner David Duffy posted to Facebook on June 21,  2013.  

“The family who owned our lions and tigers had to leave unexpectedly at the end of last week due to personal reasons,”  Duffy continued.  “We worked hard and replaced the lions and tigers for the rest of this year with 12 beautiful white wolf dogs,  amazing parrots, and a comedy horse act.”

The Irish Times reported that Duffy told media “the act had been replaced with 10 white Alsatians and huskies.”  The “comedy horse act” reportedly features zebras,  llamas,  horses,  ponies,  and donkeys.

“After 25 years of having tigers and lions on our show,  last Sunday was the last time for them to perform with us,”  Duffy confirmed to Radio Telefis Eireann.  Acknowledging that “one wrong move can be fatal” around big cats,  Duffy did not anticipate adding a big cat act from another source.  

In September 1995 a man reportedly broke into the Duffy’s Circus tiger trailer at 4:00 a.m. in Galway,  tried to pet the tigers through a feeding slot in their cage,  and lost both arms.

Tigers and lions had been exhibited for the 137-year-old Duffy Circus since 1988 by Tomas Chipperfield and other members of the Chipperfield family.  The Chipperfields are descended from James Chipperfield,  who offered a dancing bear act at the Thomas Frost Fair on the frozen Thames River outside of London in 1683-1684.  

Tomas Chipperfield was perhaps the last member of the family to receive feature billing in a traveling show.  Chipperfield’s Circus,  which had split into two circuses operated by different branches of the family,  ceased touring with animals in 1990,  but several Chipperfields have presented animal acts for other circuses,  are involved in operating zoos and theme parks,  and reportedly have an exotic animal transport business.

Mary Cawley Chipperfield, 61, and her husband Roger Cawley,  owners of one of the Chipperfield Circus units,  were in January 26, 1999 convicted of multiple counts of cruelty toward a young chimpanzee and a sick elephant.  One of their staff,  Stephen Gillis, was convicted in November 1998 on related charges for allegedly beating an elephant with an iron bar, shovel, broom, and pitchfork.

The incidents led to escalated animal advocacy campaigning against all circus use of animals throughout Great Britain and Ireland.  The Limerick-based Animal Rights Action Network and Animal Defenders International had pursued Duffy’s Circus with frequent protests since November 2005,  following ADI undercover investigations of seven circus that toured Ireland in 2000 and 2003.

ARAN in recent months won resolutions from the governing councils in Drogheda,  Wicklow,  Monaghan,  and Waterford against allowing circuses to exhibit animals on public land.  

“ARAN and ADI are now looking into what is going to happen with the animals,”  said ARAN founder John Carmody of the Chipperfield tigers and lions.  “We would encourage the circus industry to retire these animals to a reputable,  caring sanctuary so that the animals can live out the rest of their lives in peace.”

The tigers and lions have spent much of their lives in circus  “beastwagons” and a portable exercise cage much smaller than most zoo and sanctuary big cat cages.

Opportunities to present animal acts elsewhere narrowed in mid-June 2013 when the parliament of Cyprus approved legislation stating that,  “The installation and operation of circuses that include in their program any species of animal, whether to perform,  parade, or simply appear before the public,  is prohibited.”

Only a few days earlier the Colombian national congress passed a bill forbidding the use of wild species in animal acts.  This followed the passage of similar legislation promoted by ADI since 2007 in Bolivia,  Ecuador,  Peru,  and Paraguay.  Colombian circuses may continue to exhibit domestic animals,  such as dogs and horses,  and were given two years to phase out wild animal acts.

Greece banned performing animal acts in April 2012.  

British agriculture minister David Heath in April 2013 introduced a draft Wild Animals in Circuses bill which would require circuses to end wild animal acts by the beginning of December 2015.   Reported BBC News,  “Under the terms of bill,  the ban will cover any creature not normally domesticated in Britain.”

But Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chair Anne MacIntosh recommended on July 9,  2013 that the legislation should exempt most of the species still used in British circuses.  

Said the EFRA committee in a written report,  “It is not clear that there is a material difference between those who keep wild birds for falconry displays and those who keep such birds for displays in a circus. Nor is the difference clear between having a display involving a raccoon in a circus or a raccoon in an act” on television.

Only two British circuses currently exhibit wildlife. “Circus Mondao has two camels, two reindeer and two zebra, while Peter Jolly’s Circus has a camel,  a fox,  a raccoon,  four reindeer,  six snakes,  a zebra,  and an ankole––a breed of cattle with enormous horns,”  wrote Tom Bawden of The Independent.   

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