Animal welfare groups fight to ban circus animals

Flickr: cmykscott

When I was younger I always wanted to go to the circus.

I wanted to see the exotic wild animals and the circus acts and marvel in all its splendor as humans and animals lived together travelling the world. Of course, in my childhood innocence I didn’t realise the type of lifestyle the animals actually led, believing them to be well looked after as they should be.

Back then I wasn’t aware of the mistreatment the animals went through or the effect captivity had on them as they spent day after day, week after week and year after year performing the same tricks for other people’s enjoyment.

Now, whenever I see a notice informing the community that a circus will be in town for a week I don’t get the same excitement I once had as a little girl where I tugged on my mum’s sleeve begging her to take me. Instead I feel sad that the animals who should be free to roam the earth are kept in metal cages until instructed to come out for that night’s entertainment.

Back in June of last year, a commons debate saw MPs saying that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) should introduce a ban on circuses regardless of any legal risk that circuses might take against such a ban. A step forward you would think for the countless animal welfare groups such as the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA, as well as the majority of politicians and the public who support a ban on circuses.

Unfortunately, that small achievement may not go any further then the room in which the debate took place after the Government broke its promise to stick to the result.

As a result of this, and rather unsurprisingly, the Born Free Federation and The Captive Animals Protection Society (Caps) have threatened to take the Government to the High Court, which would see animal welfare groups challenging the Government’s refusal to ban wild animals in British circuses.

But why would they oppose such a ban?

Wild animals are not supposed to be kept captive, away from their natural environment where the possibility of mistreatment is highly likely. Anyone who remembers the shocking abuse that Anne the elephant suffered at the hands of Bobby Roberts Super Circus last year with film footage captured by Animal Defenders International (ADI) will know that behind closed doors wild animals are shackled by heavy chains and beaten by metal poles.

And yet the Government continues to refuse a ban on wild animals in British circuses. Why?

According to them and Defra – who originally supported the ban – a ban cannot be implemented for legal reasons. And the reasons behind this? No idea, as they refuse to detail them.

Instead over the past six months Defra has continued with its same view and explained that instead of issuing a ban on wild animals in circuses it will announce a tough new licensing system this month. This system is intended to ensure that only wild animals who are properly cared for can perform in circuses.

How, though, is it possible for such a scheme to be upheld among the many circuses in Britain and what happens if those circuses are found to be mishandling the animals? Will they simply get a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again, or will it only be then that the Government decide that serious action is needed?

Early last month a landmark court case took place in Austria that this Government should copy. A court challenge by Circus Krone was taken to the Austrian Constitutional Court in Vienna which saw the circus challenge a six-year ban on wild animals.

The courts decision? They simply threw the circus’ application out, upholding the ban in place.

Clearly, there are a few things here that the UK Government can learn from. Why David Cameron is not in full support of this I don’t know, but any legal obstacles the Government and Defra claim are an avoidance tactic. Under the Basic Law of 21 December 1867 on the General Rights of Nationals in the Kingdoms and Länder represented in the Council of the Realm, a ban would not encroach on the applicant’s (circus) right “to practice every kind of gainful activity.”

This being said while the ban may interfere with the rights of the applicant, the interference would be based on the protection of the animals, which means that the interference would be proportional and balanced.

As such, no obstacles would prevent the Government from implementing an immediate ban, and yet, they still refuse to do so.

Clearly something needs to be done to protect the rights of wild animals and I don’t think that is going to be achieved by the proposed new licensing scheme. Action needs to be taken and until this has been achieved the lives of countless wild animals are in danger in the hands of the circuses.


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