There is no scientific evidence to support a ban on using wild animals in travelling circuses, a report suggests.
There are seven tigers working in UK circuses
The Circus Working Group said there was "little evidence" the conditions these animals were kept in were "better or worse" than other captive environments.
The academic panel was created to consider the scientific evidence from both sides of the debate.
Ministers have proposed a ban on some animals and will consider the working group's findings.
Its report concludes: "There appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments."
The six-person academic panel, nominated by animal welfare groups and industry representatives who formed the working group, said it had found no evidence that regular transportation adversely affected animal welfare.
It said that, while being kept in a circus meant the animals were more confined than in the wild, that did not necessarily damage their welfare.
The panel concluded that animal health was generally good in travelling circuses and it was difficult to make a decision as to whether evidence of "stereotypic behaviour", such as pacing, showed poor welfare.
There are fewer than 50 animals involved in travelling circuses in the UK, including a retired but still touring elephant, seven tigers, five lions, a number of llamas, zebras and snakes.
But the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses report by the chairman of the working group - Mike Radford of the University of Aberdeen - said animals such as tigers, elephants, sea lions, zebras and camels were still widely used in European circuses and a decision in the UK would be closely watched abroad.
He said: "Our present state of knowledge about the welfare of non-domesticated animals used in circuses is such that we cannot look to scientific evidence for a steer in the development of policy. It is, ultimately, an entirely political decision."
But the report said changes needed to be made, as travelling circuses were not covered by any kind of animal welfare regulation - such as that afforded to animals in zoos - except standards all individuals have to maintain, and the requirement they register with local authorities.
The government has proposed the ban on certain animals, alongside other regulations such as standards for over-wintering sites.
The RSPCA, which formed part of the welfare sub group of the working group, today called for a ban on wild animals in circuses.
Dr Rob Atkinson, the organisation's head of wildlife science, said: "Circus animals are kept for most of the time in close confinement, in abnormal social groups, exposed to forced movement, human handling, noise, vibration, and cage motion.
"Allowing the use of wild animals in circuses to remain lawful would be completely against the spirit of the Animal Welfare Act - and would be a travesty."
Jan Creamer, chief executive of Animal Defenders International, who sat on the welfare sub group of the working group, described the study as an "utter waste of time and effort".
"We warned that Defra's insistence on only looking at scientific studies would result in too little evidence, because this is not a subject that has been of academic interest - so the studies are not there.
"However, there is a great deal of observational evidence including studies and video that indicates that animals in cages on the backs of lorries, constantly travelling in deprived and unstable environments, compromise animal welfare.
"What we need is a dose of common sense in this decision."
But Chris Barltrop, chairman of the industry sub-group of the working group, said the report was "tremendous".
He also said the industry was prepared to accept greater regulation.
"This report is not the end of the road because we haven't yet achieved the goal of ensuring the future of the circus, which I believe is an important amenity and cultural feature.
"But I think this is the first day of what could be a very positive future for the circus industry," he said.
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: "I am very grateful for the group's work which will contribute to the debate on the welfare of wild animals in circuses.
"We will consider the report's findings carefully."