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The Debate: ‘Should wild animals be banned from the circus?’

Controversy has arisen as ‘The Great British Circus’ arrived in Newark, Nottinghamshire, for a string of shows featuring performing elephants. It is the first time for ten years that an elephant act has been part of a circus schedule in the UK.

The show also includes a group of tigers (including a rare white tiger), lions, camels, zebras, reindeer and horses, and has received heavy criticism from animal welfare campaigners. Newark and Sherwood District Council reports that it does not have a ban on animal circuses.

According to The Great British Circus’s website, the show has been “overwhelmed by supportive emails from animal lovers who understand the truth about how well we look after our animals.”

Nationally,180 cross-party MPs have signed a petition calling for a ban on wild animals in circuses and a proper licensing system for domesticated animals. In recent polls this move has been supported, say animal rights campaigners, by 80% of the British public.

“Elephants are intelligent, social animals that need a large amount of space, and a great deal of stimulation,” says Jan Creamer, Animal Defenders International Chief Executive. “Worldwide awareness of animal suffering in circuses has never been greater,” she states, suggesting government inaction is responsible for a resurgence in elephant performances in the UK.

The show, after performing in Nottinghamshire in early March, is now set to move to Scunthorpe.

Yes – Justine Moat

The re-introduction of elephants by the Great British Circus represents a terrible regression in animal welfare. It is a shameful anachronism that whilst bear-baiting and dog-fighting were outlawed in the 19th century, 150-200 animals (30 of them wild) still remain in UK circuses and no restrictions exist on which species can be held or minimal legal provisions for their welfare.

The circus director, Martin Lacey, argues that the elephants provide entertainment and education within the caring environment of the circus. This justification is morally and socially unacceptable. Although circuses may insist that they treat their animals with care, it is obvious that the environment of confinement and constant travelling is woefully inadequate when compared to the dynamic and socially complex characteristics of a natural habitat in the wild or a zoo. The minimum pen sizes advocated by the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain are on average 70% smaller and never larger than the recommended minimum outdoor enclosure sizes in zoos.

Performing tricks can cause unbearable strain on animals’ joints and the frequent travelling subjects them to high levels of stress. This suffering can never be outweighed by the enjoyment some people get from seeing them perform tricks. Nor can it be justified in the name of education, as there are so many other ways of learning about animals that are not harmful, for instance through the Internet. What can the continued use of such beautiful creatures in circuses possibly teach children apart from the lesson that it is acceptable to confine wild animals for the purposes of human enjoyment?

No – Louis George Hemsley

To some, the circus represents travellers touring remote villages, offering bear-baiting as a form of entertainment, squatting on private land and starving feral beasts in cages. They could not be more wrong.

Invented in 1768 by the same country that brought us rugby, cricket, the World Wide Web and television (Britain in case you’re wondering), for 200 years it was considered the ultimate entertainment with its bright lights and colourful facade featuring exotic people and animals. As with global warming in recent years, the issue of animal rights came to the fore in the 1980s and a smear campaign ensued. Suddenly it became wrong to enjoy all this. But really, are circuses any worse than training animals to sit at the kerb, take part in dog agility courses or horse shows? I’ve yet to hear calls to outlaw county shows or dressage from the 2012 Olympics.

Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington reported on circus animals for the RSPCA that it was wrong to assume animals should always be kept in a natural state. Just as athletes and circus artistes enjoy mastering new physical skills, so do some animals. Might circus animals enjoy a great life of easy food, great travel and fun companionship? I would suggest this is far better than being caged in Whipsnade Zoo or bred for slaughter.

I too have issues with the term ‘wild’ – most have been born into captivity and have known nothing but this lavish and glamorous lifestyle. I conclude that animal shows are an important part of our cultural heritage and banning them would simply confirm that extreme zealots are taking over society.

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3 Comments on this post.
  • Chris
    23 September 2009 at 23:39
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    All animals were at one time wild. If the majority of people think it not right to show animals in circuses, put the animals down and make the circus illegal.

  • aysha
    21 October 2009 at 15:35
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    i Aysha think that animal should be banned from the circus because they get treated mean and that they get taken away fro their habattack because they problay missed doing stuff by them selves

  • Luke
    9 April 2010 at 02:57
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    Animals shouldnt be banned from the Circus. theres so many rules/laws which circus owners must obey and then you get sad people protesting. ive been to see the The Great British Circus and it was a good night. and the animals are in fantastic shape
    @Aysha if these animals was released to they natural habattat they wouldnt last very long Humans are a terrible race

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