Amazing coincidence. Last week I was sitting in Frankfurt airport awaiting my flight to Birmingham, and chatting to our Chief Whip Julie Girling MEP (SW) about the recent Private Member's Bill from Mark Pritchard MP, seeking to outlaw the use of wild animals in circuses. When blow-me-down but a man on the back-to-back row of seats interrupted to say "I'm Mark Pritchard". And indeed he was -- returning to the UK via Frankfurt from a meeting in Rome.
Mark has earned a lot of brownie points for standing up to some outrageous pressure from Downing Street, sticking to his guns and refusing to withdraw his bill. I salute him for that. But I still have concerns about the Bill. By all means let's outlaw ill-treatment, and police it. (I understand that the RSPCA routinely monitors the welfare of circus animals, and rarely finds any problems, but of course that's not news and doesn't get reported).
The move to ban wild animals in circuses is driven by animal rights zealots like PETA and IFAW, whose long-term agenda is to ban any use of animals at all. Give them a ban on wild animals in circuses, and the next thing they'll want is other circus animals -- including horses. They're against racing (whether horses or greyhounds). They're against zoos. They're against livestock and meat-eating. They're campaigning in the European parliament to impose a huge and intrusive new regulatory structure on dog owners in the name of welfare.
And of course their grotesque and ultimate objective is to ban pet-ownership entirely (or as they would say in their cumbersome Guardianista new-speak, "companion animals") on the grounds that pet ownership "demeans animals". Try asking Brindle, my rescue greyhound, if she feels "demeaned" as she sleeps in front of the Aga!
I was recently contacted by a circus artiste, Amanda Sandow, who is terrified that her act with her horse and pony will be outlawed. Her love and concern for her animals shines through in her correspondence. So I asked Jolyon Jamieson, who speaks for the industry, to say why we should not support Mark Pritchard's Bill. Here is what he [and Chris Barltrop] said:
You only have to say the word ‘circus’ to conjure up a whole set of images. The huge big top. Equestrians astride high stepping steeds or standing, dancing, somersaulting on horseback. Daring and skilful artists, performing in and above a circular arena of glowing light, its floor a layer of aromatic sawdust. Colour. Romance. Children and adults sharing a sense of wonder and delight.
From the time of the first modern circus in London in 1768, an essential part of that delight has been the sight of people and animals working together. Gleaming horses, responding to signals from their trainer’s waving whip or even from his voice, trotting, pirouetting, waltzing together in magical harmony. Stately elephants whose riders bob precariously astride their necks. Camels, zebras, monkeys; sometimes trained birds. And often lions, tigers, perhaps bears, straight from storybooks, soothed but still savage.
There is no magic way to achieve the rapport we see between trainer and animal. It takes time to develop; it involves trust, developed gently over a long period, usually beginning by playing together when the animals are young, and building on their natural abilities and movements. Trainers must be patient. Gentleness, praise and titbits bring positive results, which rough handling or harshness would destroy in an instant.
Circus animals are well cared for; official inspections guarantee that, and in any case the true circus people put their animals first. Modern trainers hold professional qualifications to verify their traditional skills. The animals get time off to socialise and follow their natural behaviours. Circus animals are well-housed, long-lived, happy and healthy. Circuses provide a unique opportunity to see exotic animals at close quarters, and to appreciate their beauty, their intelligence, their strength and their size.
In October 2005, the European Parliament adopted by a large majority a resolution calling for greater recognition of and support for the Classical circus as an important facet of European culture. Circuses must have the highest standards of animal welfare; to protect the animals is to protect and preserve the cultural tradition of the circus for the delight of future generations.
Amanda Sandow, circus artiste, with - "The Boys" - her horse Steel and pony Frosty.