EFRA report on Wild Animals in Circuses Bill makes no sense

The report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee (EFRA) on the UK Government’s Wild Animals in Circuses Bill is so shallow that it makes no sense. Profoundly disappointing.

Flying in the face of overwhelming public opinion (94.5% favour a ban in a DEFRA survey); 63% of Members of Parliament favour a ban (Dods poll), and a 2011 vote of the Backbench Committee of Members of Parliament instructing the Government to introduce a ban – EFRA has decided that we only need to ban the species that we no longer have in UK circuses.

We were pleased that after twenty years of investigations, reports, studies and four criminal convictions secured through ADI investigations, the Government finally introduced a Bill to end use of wild animals in travelling circuses.

It is disturbing that now, without requesting or examining evidence of animal suffering, EFRA has recommended that only elephants (no longer in UK circuses), lions, tigers and other large cats (no longer in UK circuses) should be banned. They recommend the licensing scheme be extended indefinitely, despite that not a single prosecution nor any exposé of abuse, has been found by inspectors. On the contrary, we have filmed inspections during periods where animals have been abused or where their care is poor, and the problems were not identified. The veterinary visits and inspections of Anne the elephant at Bobby Roberts’ Super Circus did not prevent the abuse or her suffering from constant chaining, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

EFRA also claims that it is not necessary for a circus owner or worker to be banned from keeping animals under any new legislation, because the Animal Welfare Act 2006 can be used to prosecute and then ban if a conviction follows. This is far more problematic than EFRA suggests. Bobby Roberts was convicted for his failure to protect Anne under the Animal Welfare Act, however he did not receive a fine, nor did he receive a ban. If he had not given up Anne due to the media pressure, she would be with him now.

The suggestion that a list of proscribed species be added to the Bill, rather than an clear-cut end to the use of wild and exotic animals is illogical and impractical. A simple ban on non-domesticated species is clear for everyone to follow and has the support of public and parliament. A proscribed list of species invites European circuses to bring to Britain a whole range of species such as primates, rhino and even hippos – species that, currently, many of our local authorities have already banned. Over 200 local authorities in the UK do not allow animal circuses, or certain species, on their land. A list of species added to any Act would need to be regularly updated.

See our comments in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/09/plan-ban-wild-animals-circuses-too-far

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Britain fails to issue a single wild animal circus licence but that doesn’t stop the circuses

Britain’s Defra (Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) informed ADI that no licences have yet been issued for the British Government’s hugely expensive and doomed scheme to regulate wild animals in circuses. Yet ADI investigators have photographed camels at Mondao circus in Kirton, Peterborough – a species that should be licensed.

On 12 October 2012 the Government announced, “A requirement that any travelling circus in England that includes wild animals first obtains a licence from Defra”. This is reiterated on Defra’s website, “The Regulations make it an offence to operate a travelling circus that has wild animals in England without a valid licence“. And, “a circus that includes wild animals and travels from place to place to give performances, displays or exhibitions and includes any place where the wild animals are kept. The definition includes all tour sites, winter quarters and anywhere else the wild animals are kept.”

Defra advised ADI by email, 26 February, “Two applications for licences have been received, but no licences have yet been issued. If any travelling circus in England is found to be using wild animals without a licence then appropriate enforcement action would be taken.”

The licensing and inspection regime was opposed by all animal welfare groups following consistent evidence of suffering and brutality released by ADI dating back twenty years. Only last year, ADI evidence secured the conviction circus owner Bobby Roberts for cruelty to his elephant, Anne. The first ever conviction of cruelty under the UK’s Animal Welfare Act after multiple inspections failed to identify any of Anne’s abuse.

Given the circumstances of keeping animals in small, lightweight, collapsible accommodation that can be fitted onto the back of a vehicle, it is simply not possible to provide these animals with the environment and facilities they need to maintain optimum psychological and physical health. That is aside from any physical abuse during training and control, that ADI has consistently exposed. The solution is not to use them in the travelling circus business.

I remain mystified by the Government’s stubborn refusal to move straight to their promise to ban wild animals from circuses, in the face of such overwhelming public and parliamentary support. A Defra survey found 94.5% of the public support a ban; a Dods poll for ADI showed the majority of Members of Parliament, 63%, also support a ban.

This appears to be blind political dogma, at the expense of vulnerable animals.
http://www.ad-international.org/animals_in_entertainment/go.php?id=3081&ssi=10

British Government’s report card – good and bad

In response to a question from Mike Hancock, MP, the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has admitted to plans to spend £261,000 on developing the unwanted wild animal circus licensing scheme for the UK, despite calls for a ban from 95% of the public – and approaching 63% of Members of Parliament.

It almost defies belief that in this grim economic climate, the Government is prepared to spend so much money on their unpopular policy. This issue is an ethical and political matter – a ban can be passed on a vote of Parliament. Yet the savage beatings and extreme environmental and social deprivation suffered by these animals is ignored while Defra dithers about – probably hoping that we will all go away.

Meanwhile the UK Home Office gets a slightly better report, having confirmed that the British ban on the use of stray cats and dogs for experiments will remain in place when the new law is introduced next yet.  However, exceptions will be made where it is claimed that the use of feral domestic species might be essential for “essential studies relating to either the health or welfare of the animals or a serious threat to the environment or to human or animal health and where the purpose can only be achieved by using feral animals”. Something to watch very closely and insist that there is full public consultations whenever use of ferals is proposed.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles our battle continues to persuade the City Council to ban the use of wild animals in traveling circuses – Ringlings is attempting to use economic muscle to push the City around, but we hope that the City’s residents will not stand for this kind of interference.

The Bogota office are still pressing authorities in Argentina and Paraguay to move on the seizure of the circus lions and tigers that were stopped at the border and don’t appear to have correct paperwork. There’s a surprise.  The cats are currently being cared for in the local zoo. Let’s hope officials in these two countries will stand up for what is right and protect these vulnerable cats.

Don’t forget to join us for Lion Ark Night on October 13 in the Hollywood Hills! Meet Bob Barker, Jorja Fox, Tonya Kaye and other celebrity supporters to help us save animals.  Private preview of Lion Ark, the movie – the story of the Bolivian circus ban and how we emptied the country of circus animals.  See http://www.adievents.com/

Mark Pritchard MP is not fooled by Defra’s cynical tactics on animal circuses

See the article by Mark Pritchard, MP, on Politics Home:
http://www.politicshome.com/uk/story/25082/circus_escape_animals_ban.html

All credit to the MPs who have worked so hard on this issue, for not being fooled by such a cynical ploy – deferring a ban until 2015 (after the General Election, making it a potential manifesto pledge), and an “interim” inspection and licensing regime that can be declared “success” at a later stage.

Mr Pritchard commented: “If the government ignore the will of Parliament they will be moving towards a constitutional crisis as well as once again confirming their reputation as being against animal welfare legislation”

Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary: 
 
”Last year Parliament voted unanimously for a ban on wild animals in circuses with the backing of 95% of the public. Defra Ministers showed how out of touch with the public they are and hid behind spurious threats of legal challenges in the EU as an excuse for doing nothing.

“Today, Ministers announce a licensing regime until a ban comes in 2015, saying there is no room on the parliamentary timetable for new legislation. Yet only yesterday they introduced a water bill into the house, which will be passed in 2 days. There is nothing to stop them doing the same thing for circus animals, but it’s clear that animal welfare is way down the list of this Government’s priorities.”

This aside, it is clear that Defra plans to keep their inspections secret. ADI requested sight of the circus inspection reports from 2008 and 2009. This was refused, and we now have a Freedom of Information appeal lodged. So it was doubly interesting when Chris Baltrop, ringmaster and occasional spokesperson for the Association of Circus Proprietors, said during media interviews yesterday, that Defra vets had recently inspected the circuses and given them a “clean bill of health”.  Secret inspections, secret reports and a licensing regime forced on an unwilling public and Parliament.

Defra’s deal with the animal circuses

Today’s announcement by the British Government that it plans to “ban wild animals in circuses” may be the most cynical announcement we’ve heard in years.

Has the Government struck a secret deal with circuses?  http://bit.ly/zXKfOO

Whilst claiming to acknowledge the suffering of wild animals in circuses, the Government has today introduced another delaying tactic to avoid introducing the necessary ban, which is so widely supported by public, Parliament, and animal protection bodies, including vets. 

Instead of a ban, Defra has called yet another consultation and laid proposals for an inspection/licensing regime which, if introduced, will consign these animals to suffer forever. 

The Coalition Government’s claim that primary legislation must wait for a slot in the Parliamentary timetable (conveniently, predicted to be after the next General Election) is nonsense.  If a Government wants to push something through, they do it. 

As Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh MP, commented:  “Today, Ministers announce a licensing regime until a ban comes in 2015, saying there is no room on the parliamentary timetable for new legislation. Yet only yesterday they introduced a water bill into the house, which will be passed in 2 days.  There is nothing to stop them doing the same thing for circus animals, but it’s clear that animal welfare is way down the list of this Government’s priorities.”

Precisely. 

We were promised a ban during debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords in 2006, when several MPs and members of the Lords had tabled amendments for a ban under the (then) Animal Welfare Bill. 

Defra persuaded the Members to withdraw their amendments on the promise that a ban would be enacted under the auspices of the new Animal Welfare Act 2006.  There followed years of Defra expert consultations, working parties, impact assessments, and feasibility studies.  This successfully kicked the issue into the long grass until after the 2010 General Election.

The last Defra public consultation (2009-2010) produced a 94.5% approval rate for a ban on wild animals in circuses. 

Then, following ADI’s undercover expose of the beatings of Anne the elephant, a body of MPs led by Mark Pritchard, together with Caroline Lucas, Jim Fitzpatrick and others, pushed for a crucial debate and vote at the Backbench Committee in June 2011.  MPs voted for a ban and directed the Government to introduce proposals for a ban by June 2012.

There is absolutely overwhelming evidence of circus suffering and not a single animal welfare body that will defend this industry. Yet Defra has decided to ignore both public and Parliament in this extraordinarily cavalier and arrogant move. 

Mark Pritchard MP, who led last year’s Commons debate:  “If the government ignore the will of Parliament they will be moving towards a constitutional crisis as well as once again confirming their reputation as being against animal welfare legislation”  http://bit.ly/z9v777

Animal Defenders International (ADI), Four Paws, Animal Aid, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), and the BVA (British Veterinary Association) want to see a clear ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. 

Meanwhile, Defra has given the circuses some cover.   Chris Baltrop, ringmaster and occasional spokesperson for the Association of Circus Proprietors, today claimed in a radio debate with me, that Defra had conducted inspections of circuses and pronounced them to enjoy a “clean bill of health”.

This is interesting.  Especially since ADI has been asking to see reports of Defra inspections of circuses dating back to 2008, and access has been blocked, forcing us to follow up with an appeal to the Freedom of Information Commissioner.

Does this mean that the fundamental tenet of the licensing regime is ‘trust-us-you-don’t-need-to-know’?

The problem with inspections and licensing is that it does not work – we have produced video of a sick lioness being hidden behind bales of hay, while an inspectors stands feet away, chatting to the circus workers.  In another undercover operation, of Great British Circus in 2009, we show how a series of inspectors (apparently six inspections in one tour), failed to note that the elephants were being beaten and were being chained for 11 hours a day.  The police, local authority inspectors, Defra inspectors and RSPCA did not see the hasps for the chains, hidden under straw.

See ADI’s report ‘Out of Control’ at:  http://bit.ly/y3l5Gg

And certainly the beatings of Anne the elephant would not have been revealed by an inspection:  http://bit.ly/u7phf2

What our independent polls say:

  • ADI ComRes poll, 2011, 71% of the public backed a ban.
  • 2011 Dods Parliamentary Poll commissioned by ADI asked 100 MPs whether the Government should ban the use of wild animals in circuses, or let the industry self-regulate:  63% of MPs agreed or strongly agreed; 14% disagreed or strongly disagreed; 6% did not respond.
  • MORI opinion poll in Autumn 2005, commissioned by ADI –
    • 80% say ban all wild animal circus acts.

    • 65% say ban all animal circus acts.

    • 90% against whipping and beating when training circus animals.

    • Only 7% strongly opposed the calls for bans
  • ADI 2004 NOP poll found–
    • 63% of the public wanted to see all animal acts banned from circuses
    • only 8% disagreed
  • 1999, an ADI MORI poll found 72% wanted wild animals banned.