Wild animals have been effectively banned from circuses in the UK and Ireland, following decades of campaigning by animal welfare activists.
The Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019 came into effect in England on 20 January. Scotland and the Republic of Ireland enacted a ban in 2017, and the Welsh Assembly has just approved a ban in practice that is expected to be in force by the end of this year.
“We are immensely proud of this achievement and it’s been a long hard road,” said Freedom for Animals director Sam Threadgill. Even though there are just two circuses touring with wild animals in England he said the legislation is ‘most definitely’ needed.
He added: “The circus environment is totally insufficient for animals. They are transported for miles and miles between each pitch in cages, in confined spaces, and then when they get there are confined in small enclosures. Our investigations have found animals are trained using cruel methods such as withdrawing food and using sticks.”
Animal Defenders International (ADI), founded in 1990, has also been campaigning on this issue and its 1998 documentary The Ugliest Show on Earth shows some of the cruel conditions and methods its investigators found. In 2011, ADI evidence of Anne the elephant being repeatedly beaten was used to prosecute the owner for mistreatment.
Executive director Angie Greenaway said: “In all the time that the Government has been prevaricating over the past ten years more than half of the global bans have been put in place.
“It’s pretty scandalous that the Government says it’s concerned about animal welfare when it’s sat on this quite simple issue for so long. It’s been a long time coming.”
Northern Ireland does not have a ban in place, and has no immediate plans for one, but also has no circuses with wild animals. The ban in the Republic has effectively stopped circuses with wild animals touring into Northern Ireland.
Both Freedom for Animals and ADI will now focus their efforts on campaigning for a ban on the use of domestic animals in circuses, because the concerns around cruelty still apply. Freedom for Animals said it had identified ten circuses touring the UK with domesticated animals.
Threadgill said: “Our next steps with this campaign is a ban on all animals in circuses – for example there are horses displaying stereotypical behaviours of stress. Dogs being trained to ride on scooters in front of large audiences, under bright lights, will experience extreme stress.”