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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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Review of the Welfare of Wild Animals in Circuses – Far from Impartial? Part 1

A review of the welfare of wild animals in circuses, which was commissioned by the Welsh Assembly, has finally been published.  It will come as no surprise to many, including Rouster, that the whole exercise was going to be a “greenwash” in favour of the animal-rights lobby. 

Is Welsh Assembly trying to 'fix' a circus animals ban?

First, the lead scientist, Professor Stephen Harris, chosen to undertake this review has co-authored a paper in 2009 condemning the use of wild animals in circuses; a situation that should have at least challenged his scientific neutrality on this issue.  He also has a reputation for involvement with various animal-rights lobby groups including The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS).  This association and his long-term friendship with a leading member this organization caused a court case in 2015 to be dismissed and brought into judgment his objectivity is an independent witness.

The other two members of the research team were Heather Pickett and Jo Dorning.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Heather Pickett is a:

“...freelance research, analysis, writing and editing services in the fields of animal welfare, environment and sustainability, agriculture and livestock production, human and animal health, nutrition and food policy.  I am skilled in pulling together the key scientific evidence to build a persuasive case for effective campaigning, fundraising and advocacy work. My work has been instrumental in achieving policy change at UK and European Union level and at major companies...”
She lists her clients as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), World Animal Protection (previously known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals), Compassion in World Farming, Respect for Animals, OneKind and Four Paws.  All these organizations (aside from Compassion in World Farming) have recorded the history of opposing wild animals in captivity particularly circuses but also in zoos. At least three of these groups would be considered members of the animal-rights industry.  She also supports the animal-rights organization Sea Shepherd (which regularly campaigns against the use of animals such as dolphins in aquaria) and The League Against Cruel Sports.

Jo Dorning is a Ph.D. Student at the University of Bristol studying foxes. Her supervisor is Professor Stephen Harris.
Perhaps one strange anomaly is that the review seems to have gone beyond its original briefing regarding animals in circuses from the Welsh Assembly to include “mobile zoos” which are categorized as falconry displays, reptile/invertebrate shows and educational shows. 

In the original briefing released on December 1, 2015, Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister of Farming and Food stated: 
“I have asked Professor Stephen Harris, 2nd Lord Dulverton Memorial Professor of Environmental Sciences at Bristol University, to undertake an independent review on the evidence of animal welfare, both physical and mental, of wild and/or non-domesticated animals in travelling and non-travelling circuses.  In addition I have asked him to consider the environmental enrichment of such animals and their behaviours.  I look forward to receiving the draft final report by the end of February 2016.” 
However, there is little ambiguity in Rebecca Evans's (and that presumably of the Welsh Assembly) opening statement that:
"The Welsh Government believes there is no place for the use of wild animals in circuses" 
Therefore, commissioning a scientist to perform a review of the matter with a published bias against animals circuses (and links to the animal-rights industry) should not come as a surprise.

One of the major problems with the review was its style of data gathering.  The group issued two sets of surveys that had to be scored from 0% to 100% in agreement.  It became immediately obvious that many of the questions are what would be termed “leading questions”.  The surveys left no means of annotation or further discussion from the consultants they had approached.  Further, a number of the questions are badly phrased and mix terminology that is not consistent.  In one example it equates negative reinforcement with punishment which is not the same when discussed in the terms of Skinnerian conditioning - the method that underscores modern contemporary animal training.  Showing a very poor understanding of animal training methods.

However, it is in the review itself contained within the Executive Summary which encapsulates a fundamental flaw in the whole review process and its conclusions.  It states:
“...We were asked “Does the evidence currently available support a ban on the use of such animals in travelling environments?”  We took into account the collective and cumulative effects of all aspects of management and the environment when considering the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses and mobile zoos. The available scientific evidence indicates that captive wild animals in circuses and other travelling animal shows do not achieve their optimal welfare requirements, as set out under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and the evidence would therefore support a ban on using wild animals in travelling circuses and mobile zoos on animal welfare grounds...”
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about this statement is that it relates to the Animal Welfare Act 2006.  Since the enactment of this legislation, there has only been one prosecution of a circus owner under this act.  This was Bobby Roberts and his retired elephant he was housing in his winter quarters.  However, it was not Mr. Roberts who had engaged in abusive behaviour with his animal but a Romanian groom Mr. Roberts had hired.  Due to illness, Mr. Roberts could not continually supervise this individual and had he done so he would have intervened to stop any abuse happening.  District Judge David Chinery's full review of the case can be found here.  This case in itself seems to demonstrate that this legislation is quite effective in ensuring the welfare of animals maintained within circuses.

Moreover, since November 2012, all circuses displaying wild animals in England have been subject to the inspection and (if approved) licensing of their animals for display under the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations.  The regulations within this act specifically cite the 2006 Animal Welfare Act.  It states the following in two clauses:
“Legal context. The Regulations are made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.  The Act still applies in full to any animal in a travelling circus (not just wild animals).  Particular note should be made to the requirements of section 4 (on “unnecessary suffering”) and section 9 (“duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare...”

“...If a person operates a travelling circus that has wild animals without a licence they will be committing an offence. The offence is under section 13(6) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006... The operator would be liable to imprisonment for a term of up to six months or a fine not exceeding level five on the standard scale (currently £5,000), or both....”
Therefore, the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations clearly state that these regulations must comply with the 2006 Animal Welfare Act.  Consequently, inspections by DEFRA veterinary advisers would be reneging in their duty if they inspected and passed animals displayed in a circus that they did not believe fully complied with the 2006 Animal Welfare Act including the so-called five “needs”.  Thus, the statement by Harris et al that wild animals in circuses cannot be provided with standards to “achieve their optimal welfare requirements” under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is erroneous. 

It further suggested that this statement of “optimal welfare requirements” is based on Professor Harris’s own personal feelings on the matter and not the actual interpretation of the legislation or, indeed, the inspection and licensing process currently being used in England to legislate the welfare of wild animals in circuses.


Dr. Ted Friend, whose research was quoted by Harris et al, was so concerned at the distortion of his research he wrote to the Welsh Assembly. A pdf of his letter is linked HERE.

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
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  1. Thank you for sharing this important information. I have personally seen/known many circus animals in prime condition, both mentally and physically, and who apparently loved performing, as well as travelling. No suprize there - my dogs love to go in the car, even if we don't get out of it! We need to open our eyes, and really evaluate what is there, rather than projecting our ideology and fantasies. I want to see animals ever more integrated into our society, not marginalized from it, and circuses have been a huge factor in bringing animals and people into contact and caring.

  2. This is a report currently sat with the Natural resources Wales for a review into shooting on land they own. Harris's name appears for supplying crap data in the whole AR scam. Just read foreword and appendices.