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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 March 2006, 17:22 GMT
Wild animals 'to face circus ban'
Ming the Canadian black bear [picture by Captive Animals' Protection Society]
The days of performing bears in travelling circuses are numbered
The government is to ban certain wild animals from performing in travelling circuses, Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw has announced.

He said the use of some animals in circuses was "not compatible" with their welfare needs.

The RSPCA and Born Free Foundation have campaigned hard for a ban to be included in the Animal Welfare Bill.

An environment spokesman said deciding which species will be included will be "open to consultation".

Zoos not affected

The charities say seven tigers, five lions, an Asian elephant, an American black bear, eight camels and three zebra the are among animals still kept in three UK circuses.

Under the plans, a code of practice will be introduced to deal with the training of animals and the accommodation provided for them.

Trainers themselves will also be subject to regular inspections.

The society continues to urge that all wild animals be spared the indignity and inadequate welfare facilities associated with performing and travelling with a circus
Rob Atkinson

Mr Bradshaw hailed the Animal Welfare Bill, which also imposes harsher fines and jail terms for animal cruelty, as "a significant step forward".

It will impose "a requirement that someone responsible for an animal, such a circus proprietor, should meet its reasonable animal welfare needs".

The minister says the ban will apply to "travelling circuses" only and not performances in static circuses or zoos.

The government plans to discuss the ban with the industry, welfare organisations and other government departments before throwing it open to public consultation.

Rob Atkinson, the RSPCA's head of wildlife, welcomed the move.

Pet instructions

"It remains to be seen which species of animals will fall into the ban," he said.

"The society continues to urge that all wild animals be spared the indignity and inadequate welfare facilities associated with performing and travelling with a circus.

"However, this news, and the accompanying announcement that the winter quarters in which circus animals are kept will be subject to licensing and inspection, is a positive step forward and one which the RSPCA welcomes."

The Animal Welfare Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will impose fines of up to 20,000 and prison sentences of up to 51 weeks for animal cruelty.

It will also allow RSPCA inspectors to intervene earlier when an animal is reported as suffering, and give people clear instructions on how to look after their pets.

The charity is optimistic that it can get a ban on tail docking in the bill.

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne said: "I would support an amendment which would ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses.

"The statement from the government is encouraging but we must wait to see the text of the amendment to discover if this is a step in the right direction or just another disappointing compromise."

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