Jan Creamer: A chance to end cruelty at the circus

TOMORROW the Queen will reveal the legislative priorities for the Government over the coming year. This will be the last opportunity for the Government to deliver on its promise to ban wild animals in circuses before we go to the polls.

Ahead of the pomp of the ceremonial state opening of Parliament, honoured and award-winning actors Sir Roger Moore and Imelda Staunton have joined a public and parliamentary majority calling for action to be taken to end wild animal circus acts.

Animal Defenders International (ADI) is keeping up the pressure on Government to pass the long-promised ban and last month delivered an open letter to 10 Downing Street with former MEP Stanley Johnson and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, signed by over 75 celebrities and politicians.

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Signatories included Dame Judi Dench, Brian Blessed, Dominic West, Eddie Izzard, Julian Clary, Michaela Strachan, Prunella Scales, Timothy West and Ann Widdecombe, along with Yorkshire MPs Hugh Bayley, Clive Betts, Nic Dakin, Angela Smith and Gerry Sutcliffe. The Prime Minister told the ADI delegation “we’re going to do it”.

Of course, actions speak louder than words. After years of tireless work by animal organisations like ADI, the public are now aware of the physical and psychological harm caused to animals in circuses, and wild animal acts have become overwhelmingly unpopular. Ninety-four per cent of people who responded to a Government consultation support a ban on the use of wild animal in circuses and over 200 councils, including Leeds and East Riding, have introduced bans on circuses with performing animals on publicly-owned land. The number of circuses with wild animals has consequently dropped dramatically over the last couple of decades to just two.

It is now widely accepted that animals in circuses suffer. Forced to endure confined conditions and a life on the road, circus animals spend most of their lives chained, tethered or caged. Animals often display what ADI has called “circus madness”, abnormal behaviours not seen in the wild. The temporary nature of the circus, and the small collapsible accommodation in which the animals are forced to live, make it impossible to provide for the animals’ welfare needs. Investigations by ADI have also revealed a culture of violence, and shockingly brutal incidents have been captured time and again on film. ADI’s exposé of Mary Chipperfield, one of the world’s most famous circus trainers, lifted the lid on the cruel training methods used in the industry and led to the conviction of the now-notorious trainer, her husband and their elephant keeper.

More recently, ADI exposed the miserable, lonely life of the UK’s last circus elephant. Elderly and arthritic, Anne endured constant chaining and brutal beatings by a groom at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus. The shocking footage led to the conviction of the circus owner on two charges of animal cruelty.

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Spurred into action by the terrible suffering of Anne, MPs voted unanimously to introduce a ban and, a year later, the Government announced its intention to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses “at the earliest opportunity”. A Bill was drafted last year, but has since stalled. If action is not taken over the coming months, the proposed implementation date of December 2015 could be missed or, worse still, the legislation could be dropped altogether, allowing animals to continue suffering for this archaic form of ‘entertainment’.

Delays to the ban have already seen big cats return to Britain. A lion and tiger act presented by Thomas Chipperfield, a relative of Mary Chipperfield, is now performing with Peter Jolly’s Circus.

As well as the big cats, other wild animals are forced to perform, at this very moment, in British circuses. They include camel, reindeer, zebra, ankole, fox, raccoon and snakes, many of whom are denied the companionship of their own kind. It would be wonderful to help retire these animals to a sanctuary, as ADI has done in other countries that have banned circuses. These animals deserve a more natural existence.

I know many people believe it is unacceptable to keep elephants in chains, or lions and tigers in tiny cages on the back of a lorry. The public have consistently backed a ban on wild animals in circuses for more than a decade. I sincerely hope that 2014 will be the year that the use of wild animals in circuses is finally consigned to the history books.

Jan Creamer is chief executive of Animal Defenders International.