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Wednesday, January 27, 1999 Published at 18:57 GMT


Animal performances a dying breed

Gerry Cottle's Circus of Horrors: The way forward for the circus

Public opinion over the use of animals in circuses has changed with the growing awareness of animal welfare.

Elephants, tigers, lions, chimpanzees and other exotic animals were once considered integral to circus entertainment. Now there is growing distaste at seeing wild animals performing in the ring.

Gerry Cottle: Public opinion is not clear cut
This shift in opinion, likely to be accelerated by Mary Chipperfield's conviction on animal cruelty charges, has ensured the evolution of the circus away from animals and towards more performance-based shows.

Former circus impresario Gerry Cottle has accepted the changing fashion by abandoning touring circuses.

[ image: The Cirque du Soleil concentrates on human skill]
The Cirque du Soleil concentrates on human skill
He says he is adapting to the marketplace and has not used animals for six years. Instead he now concentrates on travelling theme-parks.

His Circus of Horrors uses bizarre and sexually explicit material which may not be to everyone's taste. However, he believes the audience demand is complex.

"In London the public do not want to see circuses with animals. But in the country they do. Even with our radical Circus of Horrors we still get people saying it is not the same and asking where the elephants are," he said.

The world famous French troupe Cirque du Soleil is another contemporary circus that uses only human performers. It specialises in feats of extraordinary acrobatic ability which draw in big audiences wherever it tours.

Nonetheless, some critics believe that relying on a shift in tastes is not enough. They say circus regulation remains a problem and needs to be addressed.

Local authorities can inspect circuses and training quarters and the Home Office is putting together a circular to remind them of their powers.

[ image: The treatment of exotic animals needs closer scrutiny]
The treatment of exotic animals needs closer scrutiny
But in the aftermath of the recent government working group report on circuses, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on animal welfare, Ian Cawsey, said he would like to see a total ban on the use of exotic animals in the circus.

"It has got to the stage when it doesn't matter what the law is, you are never going to satisfactorily look after exotic and wild animals in the circus and really the whole practice should be ended," he said.

Ian Cawsey: A total ban on animals is the answer
His view is shared by groups working to promote concern for the well-being of animals.The RSPCA for example has long been opposed to circuses that feature zoos and other animal entertainment.

Mr Cawsey believes that the Home Office may tighten up the law within the next few years.

The outcome of the Chipperfield case may well put the issue of how some of the world's most beautiful animals are treated in this country under closer scrutiny.

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27 Jan 99 | UK
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