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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Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Bring on the Dancing Elephants?

The Mirror is a UK daily tabloid newspaper. As with many tabloid newspapers the standards of journalistic reporting can sometimes be rather disappointing but a recent article regarding the issue of animals in circuses plumbs new depths of banality where impartiality appears not to be given a second thought. In fact, reading this particular article the reader could be forgiven that you have stumbled across an advertising feature paid for by an animal-rights group not the objective reporting of a national newspaper.

The article was written by journalist 
Federica Cocco and headlined "Circus animals: everyone wants to save them except these three Tory MPs". It was reporting the alleged ongoing controversy of a proposed ban in Britain of the use of wild animals in circus presentations.

The article's main bone of contention was the fact that three Conservative MPs - Andrew Rosindell, Philip Davies and Christopher Chope - have consistently blocked a Private members Bill to ban wild animals in circuses by the MP Jim Fitzpatrick prior to an impending election scheduled for 7 May 2015. These MP's actions have scuppering any chance of such a ban being contemplated until the formation of a new government.

The article is littered with inconsistencies, half-truths and statements that border on the incredulous. The crowning glory to this article is an on-line survey that is so unbelievably biased in its execution that it is beyond satire and genuine comedy gold.

Unfortunately, the journalist involved seems to have made no effort to have spoken to the circuses attacked in the body of the article with accusations of abuse towards their animals.

The article's first error is the suggestion that currently wild animals displayed in British circuses have no protection under the law. The article quotes:

"...For a while now there have been concerns over how wild circus animals are treated and the conditions in which they are kept and transported - currently anything goes given that these animals are not protected under any legislation..."
This statement is a lie. As of December 2012 the government introduced legislation that all circuses displaying wild animals in Britain require inspection by DEFRA appointed veterinary surgeons and licensing based on proscribed welfare standards. Circuses that cannot consistently supply these standards will not be licensed and therefore cannot use performing animals within their shows. The legislation is Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012 and its full details can be found HERE.

Puzzlingly later in the article the journalists contradicts her above original statement (that animals are not protected under any legislation) by stating that there is indeed legislation to protect these animals:

"... The Government has introduced an interim licensing scheme for all travelling circuses which are subject to regular announced and unannounced welfare inspections. So far, Defra have told us nothing untoward as been found..."
Later in the article, the reporter makes a point that despite the small numbers of wild animals displayed in circuses within the UK a ban must be in place to stop the importation of animal acts from outside the UK performing within Britain. This strange statement seems to miss the fact that any importation of animals to perform in a circus within Britain would be subject to exactly the same inspection and licensing process already in place for animals currently residing within the UK. Therefore, this rather clumsy suggestion that somehow foreign animals could be brought into the UK to perform within a circus without welfare regulation is false.

Moreover, the article seem suggest that these inspection reports are somehow not available in the public domain and can only be obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request when in fact they are openly displayed on the DEFRA website.

Further the article maintains that:

" one case a circus was keeping their camels and reindeer in unsafe enclosures (the camel paddock, adjacent to a main road, was not properly fenced) and unsupervised with the public thereby breaching its licence conditions..."
However, it is not mentioned that this is considered a misdemeanour by the licensing authorities and was corrected. More significantly, this was the only one issue that could be found within the numerous inspection reports found on the DEFRA's web site. Therefore, one could be forgiven in thinking this is hardly a major breach of any licensing conditions or a major compromising of the welfare of the animals concerned.  In other words: the licensing regulation appears to be working as intended despite what animal-right activists might claim.

Then we come to the issue of surveys and the often quoted statement that over 95% of the public support a ban on wild animals in circuses. This statement is also misleading

The 95% figure is based on a self-report survey undertaken in a consultation by DEFRA in 2010. It is astounding that the journalist concerned could take this survey as a representative sample of British publics opinion particularly as her web profile boasts specialist knowledge and statistics and data. Moreover, she should be aware that these type of survey are statistically meaningless.

Moreover, as an opinion driven survey it should be noted that the animal-rights groups had (at the time of the survey) orchestrated its members to respond. In fact, it appears looking at the data in the survey that many of the participants were not UK residents and some people voted more than once.

Interestingly, there have been opinion polls on animals in circuses. 
The 2005 poll revealed that of people asked 60% agreed and 25% disagreed with the statement that all performing animals should be banned.   To a further question, 80% agreed and 15% disagreed that all wild performing animals should be banned.  More information on this and other polls can be found HERE.

Naturally, this begs the question as to whether public opinion should actually be a driving force for what people wish to see in the leisure and entertainment time.  Particularly when the scientific evidence is that animals in circuses welfare is not compromised - a fact that is even admitted by the government.

This is evidently the nub of the issue and the reason why so much fuss is been made regarding wild animals in circuses by the animal-rights lobby. These groups are fully aware that the available research does not support the contention that circuses compromise animal welfare and this was clearly stated in the 2007 DEFRA report on this matter. More so, even the government in its efforts to bring in a ban have openly admitted that they cannot ban these acts based on animal welfare.

This is the kind of poll that gives statistics a bad name. It is beyond satire and worthy of Monty Python in its total ineptitude. What newspaper could even believe that running such a poll would enhance its credibility.

Finally we come to perhaps the most bizarre and comic aspect of this article in the opinion survey.  Once again, the journalist's concerned background in statistics fails dreadfully when she allow allows such a biased and misleading data set.

Another poll, another result. Like the cited DEFRA consultation survey that appear to show that over 95% wished wild animals in circuses to be banned this poll sponsored by the Mirror on February 5, 2015 showed 74% of the survey participants think circus should not be banned. Both polls are deeply flawed and neither have any genuine statistical significance.

Of course, this could have something to do with the fact that the last survey which had more neutral lines of questioning revealed that the majority of people did not want to see circuses with animals banned. But in either case the dramatic different in the results of these and other self-report survey demonstrates they are truly useless as statical tools to judge true public sentiments.

So perhaps the wording of this new survey is nothing more than sour grapes on behalf of The Mirror newspaper and Animal Defenders International (ADI) the group who have orchestrated this campaign against British circuses and were clearly instrumental in generating news copy from a journalist whose analytical skills seemed to have failed them regarding the issue of animals in circuses.

In conclusion, perhaps one the saddest aspects of this news article is that the journalist who wrote this article Federica Cocco has worked for a number of news agencies including being a researcher for the Centre for Investigative Journalism
 Moreover, it could be suggested that she could have spent her time more wisely undertaking some genuine investigative journalism into the activities of the above-cited animal-rights group Animal Defenders International. 

ADI  (which despite appearances is not a charity) was revealed at the Bobby Roberts courtcase  to have carry out operations employing the services of a man named Robert Cogswell.  A man ADI admitted employing to plant a camera that recorded evidence of Anne the elephant been hit over a number of weeks by a groom. Cogswell, who was giving evidence for the prosecution, revealed under cross-examination that he had connections to major extremist animal rights groups. He was also an ex-member of PETA and had been heavily connected to the Animal Liberation Front, a terrorist organization claiming responsibility for a huge number of crimes. Cogswell had publicly defended ALF on several occasions. He also had a previous conviction for possession of a firearm with intent to kill or cause serious harm.

In his official remarks Judge Chinery wrote about Robert Cogswell:
"I found Robert Cogswell to be a witness whose evidence I must treat with caution. He works for ADI an organisation which has its own agenda and was, perhaps not unnaturally, somewhat circumspect about the amount of detail he gave in his evidence. He was questioned at length about his previous conviction and his previous activities with organisations engaging in like activities. He was not shaken under cross-examination but I was left with the impression that he had told me what he wanted me to hear. In particular his account of how the camera came to be placed in the location was too coincidental for me to accept."
Cogswell remains associated to Animal Defenders International at the time of writing and was involved in ADI's Lion Ark project in South America.

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
Or follow us on Twitter: @RousterAstley

Peta vs Animals

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
Or follow us on Twitter: @RousterAstley

1 comment:

  1. I believe these news articles include polls deliberately to bring supporters (on both sides) to the page and generate "views", aka: ad revenue.