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Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 14:11 GMT

UK Politics

Protect circus animals call

Animals are subjected to degrading acts, say campaigners

Animal welfare campaigners and circus owners are joining forces to call for an end to cruelty in the big top - and behind the scenes.

A working party, including a vet and RSPCA officials, is warning that current UK laws offer little or no protection to animals used for circus acts, such as lions, tigers, elephants and seals.

[ image: Campaigners say animals should be banned from circuses]
Campaigners say animals should be banned from circuses
The Circus Animal Working Party wants a change in the law to prevent wild animals suffering undignified and unnatural conditions and is putting a range of options for change to MPs.

Campaigners have long argued that the use of animals in circuses should be banned because they are kept in areas too small for them, causing life-long mental torment.

Many also suffer physical abuse during training and practices, they say, including an unnatural lack of exercise.

Roger Gale: "There is no place for performing wild animals in circuses"
The working party was set up by the all-party parliamentary Animal Welfare Group, chaired by MP Roger Gale, and has based its report on a two-year study of circus animals, including visits to travelling circuses.

It has put its report to MPs and to the welfare group itself for consideration.

'Ban this cruelty'

Other members of the group include representatives of the Born Free Foundation, the Environmental Health Officers Association and the Circus Proprietors Association.

Mr Gale, Conservative MP for Thanet North, told the BBC: "I believe and I think many people agree, that there should be an end to the use of wild animals.

"It's undignified and the conditions under which they are kept are woefully inadequate - the cages are too small, the environments they live in are not suitable and many of use believe the time as come for that practice to end."

[ image: A tiger at a Chipperfields circus]
A tiger at a Chipperfields circus
In 1997, there were 12 large circuses with animal acts touring major cities and towns in the UK, and a further nine smaller circuses with animals touring smaller sites, in total using 545 wild and exotic animals.

About one in three local authorities has banned acts involving animals from its land and campaigners say councils want to have more legal powers.

Evidence of boredom and stress

RSPCA inspectors always aim to carry out visits on animal circuses, but they have no formal legal powers to conduct inspections.

Dr Arthur Lindley, of the RSPCA, said he saw considerable evidence on visits to circuses of animals suffering boredom, such as lions biting one another's tails and elephants eating their own dung.

He said he saw some animals were very overweight through lack of exercise and poor diet, others were painfully thin, but no prosecutions were possible because of loopholes in the law - which this report was aimed at blocking.

All members of the party agreed after their two-year study that the current situation should not be allowed to remain and some change in the law was needed.

Will Travers, of the Born Free Foundation, dismissed the argument that seeing circus animals can be educational for children.

He pointed out that a member of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University, who was commissioned to independently research a range of literature on the subject, found no evidence that circuses contribute to education or conservation.

But the research did show animals show "psychological, physical and physiological signs of stress".

Mr Gale said he believed the weight of evidence and the depth of the research carried out by the group would make MPs take action.

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