Grahame calls for UK-wide ban on circuses using wild animals

A LOCAL MSP fears that a new ban on the use of performing wild animals in circuses in England could encourage travelling circuses to head for the Borders and the rest of Scotland, writes Mark Entwistle.

The Westminster Government recently announced that wild animals will no longer be made to perform in travelling circuses under proposals being developed by Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

The UK Government says it will seek to introduce primary legislation at the earliest opportunity to achieve its much-stated desire to ban travelling circuses from using performing wild animals.

In the meantime, owners of travelling circuses will be required to meet strict new licensing standards, which will ensure high welfare conditions for wild animals, following the publication of the Government’s consultation on a circus licensing scheme.

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame, who chairs the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on animal welfare, wants to see a similar ban introduced in Scotland and has lodged a motion urging the Scottish Government to make a clear, timetabled commitment to also ban travelling circuses with wild animals as soon as possible.

She says the constant travel, confinement, lack of companionship and performing unnatural tricks for public entertainment is a long outdated understanding of the animals’ needs.

“I am pleased that the UK Government is making steps to ultimately ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England, even though the timescale for such a ban is unclear,” Ms Grahame told TheSouthern.

But she warned: “However, I am concerned that once any ban goes through it will encourage owners of circuses to relocate in Scotland and this is something that must be stopped as soon as possible.”

Announcing the ban, animal welfare minister Lord Taylor said there was no place in today’s society for wild animals being used for entertainment purposes in travelling circuses and that wild animals deserved respect.

“We have said many times we wanted to ban this outdated practice, but before we could do that there were serious legal issues we had to consider,” said Lord Taylor.

“We are developing proposals to introduce a bill as soon as parliamentary time allows. In the meantime, we are introducing a Circus Licensing Scheme to ensure decent conditions for wild animals in travelling circuses.”

A consultation on the new welfare licences has been published today. Anyone responsible for a travelling circus in England that uses wild animals in a circus performance will need to hold a valid licence, meet strict welfare standards, prepare and follow plans for caring for every animal and have a retirement plan for each animal.

The licensing scheme will be enforced through inspections by a dedicated Government-appointed inspector and paid for by the circuses. The consultation will close on April 25 and draft regulations will be brought before the House of Commons by the summer.

According to animal welfare charity, OneKind, there are three travelling circuses with wild animals operating in England, making use of an estimated 39 wild animals. This includes tigers, camels, zebras and snakes.