Your Guide to the Reality of Animal Circus

"The academic panel concluded that 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" - Executive Summary of the DEFRA Circus Working Group 2007

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Friday, 30 March 2012

The "ethical question"

The Journal of EthicsThe Journal of Ethics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)To put it mildly, the "ethical question" about animals in Circus scares the life out of me.  Let me put you in the picture, just in case you missed the story unfolding:

1990. Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington, one of the worlds foremost animal behaviour experts, publishes a book titled “Animals in Circuses and Zoos: Chiron’s world?” .  “Chiron was a centaur, half man half horse, symbolising the joining together of humans and animals. Is this close relationship what is happening, or what could happen, between people and animals in circuses and zoos?”  The book contains the results of an 18-month scientific study of circus animals, in comparison with animals in zoos and in the wild, commissioned by the RSPCA and UFAW (Universities Federation for Animal Welfare).  The summary of the results is as follows:

“After 3000 hours of scientific observation of animals and many visits to circuses and zoos, including training, travel and performance, Dr Kiley-Worthington concludes that, while there are improvements that must be made, circuses do not by their nature cause suffering and distress in animals. She states, "On balance, I do not think that the animals best interests are necessarily served by money and activities diverted to try and ban circuses and zoos either locally or nationally. What is much more important is to continue to encourage the zoos and circuses to improve their animal welfare along the lines recommended."”


One would think that a scientific study of this magnitude would be enough to assuage most people’s fears that Circus animals are suffering.  But no, Animal Rights and Animal Welfare organisations, including the RSPCA who commissioned it, choose to ignore the report altogether and carry on their campaign of slander, libel and terrorism towards animal Circuses.  Newspaper “campaigns” follow suit, in the grand British tradition of grabbing an emotive subject and using it to deprive readers of their time and money.

2009/10.  DEFRA runs a 12-week consultation considering "three basic options for raising the standard of welfare for wild animals: a complete ban; voluntary self regulation; or compulsory statutory regulation."  The results are commonly reported as indicating that 95% of "the British public" support a ban.  This is a slight inaccuracy.  95% of respondents did support a ban, that's a fact.  However, no checks were put in place to avoid multiple voting and screen votes from abroad.  Furthermore, the consultation wasn't widely advertised and was carried out during the winter months, when most Circuses are not open for business.  This means that, while AR groups could collect votes amongst their supporters all over the world, British Circuses could not do the same as they do not rely on mailing lists, but on the public visiting them.
Even ignoring these major fallacies, the consultation received under 13,000 responses.  This equates to only 0.02% of the British population, and is less than the number of paying members of the public who annually visit an animal Circus.
March 2011.  ADI (Animal Defenders International) releases a video allegedly showing Anne, the last elephant to travel with a British Circus, being hit by a groom at the Circus’ winter quarters.  There is plenty of controversy over the video, how it was made, and how and when it was released into the public domain.  The issue is still at court, so I shan’t debate it any further.

As a consequence of the video’s release, the Animal Rights organisations step up their campaign. 

June 2011.  A motion is passed by MPs in the House of Commons, calling for a ban.  This motion is generally referred to in the press and by AR groups as “unanimous”, which is passing strange as only 36 MPs voted in favour of a ban on exotic animals.  There are 650 MPs in the UK, which means that only 5.5% voted in favour of a ban.

March 2012.  DEFRA releases a statement that “Wild animals will no longer be made to perform in travelling circuses.  The Government 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.”

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Taylor says:

“There is no place in today’s society for wild animals being used for our entertainment in travelling circuses. Wild animals deserve our 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.

 “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.”

The ban is planned to go forward, unofficially, in 2015.

I only have one question – how on earth is this happening?  The ban is not based on custom, facts or the will of the majority.

The tradition of animal Circus in this country goes back to 1768.  In that year, equestrian Philip Astley, an Englishman, is credited for creating what we now class as “Traditional Circus” in London.  Astley invented the Circus ring and set its size to allow trick riders to maintain balance on top of galloping horses.  Animal Circus is part of our culture.

The scientific evidence does not support a ban.  It cannot be explained away by facts.  The experts still agree that appropriate regulation would be more than adequate to ensure the welfare of animals in Circus.

The fact that animal Circuses are thriving does not support a ban.  For instance, go to a performance of Zippos or Mondao, which include animals, and you will find a handful of Animal Right activists protesting outside the gates - normally the same people day after day - while hundreds of people inside enjoy the show.

The thing that chills me is that we are supposed to be living in a secular democracy. A SECULAR DEMOCRACY! Legislation is supposed to be passed based on a combination of rationality and the will of the majority!  The British government has seemingly decided to ban a nearly 250-year-old, quintessential, legal, popular British tradition purely on the ethics of a minority of extremists.
What sort of country are we actually living in?

Astley's Legacy was formed to counter the misinformation and propaganda spread by animal rights activists. As well as fighting the corner for circus animals and their trainers, we are here to promote and celebrate the cultural heritage of circus in general, and especially in the country of its birth - Great Britain. For more information please see our Facebook group; The WELFARE of Circus animals.
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1 comment:

  1. Excellent article. Well written, well thought out. Thank you