UK wild animal circuses, Anne Trial and Lion Ark

Catching up… It’s been a very busy time with the UK Government discussing the wild animal circus issue and the new legislation on animal experiments. We’ve had the Los Angeles circus animal ban under discussion, and our Hollywood Lion Ark Night event with Bob Barker, Jorja Fox and a host of celebrities for the private preview of our new movie, Lion Ark, http://www.lionarkthemovie.com/ , then back to London for the Roberts cruelty trial.

After many promises, many delays and time and money wasted on a flawed licensing regime, we may indeed see some progress from the UK Government on the wild animal circus ban.

In a move which appears to signal the beginning of the end for the remaining wild animals in circuses in Britain, ADI revealed on 4th February that Martin Lacey, owner of the Great British Circus, had shipped his tigers off to Ireland to perform with the Courtney Brothers Circus. http://bit.ly/WM8gzp

We told ‘The Observer’ http://bit.ly/WM8gzp, “There has been enough evidence, enough consultations, all the experts agree – putting large cats and other exotic animals in tiny cages that fit on a truck, with no environmental enrichment, and then beating them to perform tricks to entertain people is unacceptable in modern society. The day of the animal circus is over.”

Only two circuses have applied for a licence under the much-criticized new licensing scheme – Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus – and there are only a handful of wild animal acts performing across Ireland. Clear evidence of their growing unpopularity with the public.

In February, we met with John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development at the National Assembly for Wales to discuss the use of wild animals in circuses.  We were heartened by the minister’s support for a ban and hopeful that Wales will introduce legislation in parallel with the UK Government.

In response to an oral question in the Welsh Assembly by Jocelyn Davies on 16th  January, the Minister had responded “….the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is considering legislation that would ban the use of wild animals in circuses. I have been liaising with the UK Government to make it clear that were that legislation to proceed, the Welsh Government would be interested in being a part of it, perhaps through a legislative consent motion, for example.”

We have also met with the Northern Ireland Assembly minister, and will be following this up, see the update at http://bit.ly/14zy8UC

It has been almost two years since our investigation exposed the terrible suffering of Anne the elephant at the winter quarters of the Bobby Roberts’ Super Circus.  Following media pressure arising from release of the footage, Roberts allowed Anne to be removed from the circus. A criminal prosecution followed using the video evidence, at a week long trial last November. Roberts was convicted of cruelty to Anne but received a derisory ‘conditional discharge’ sentence, which means that unless he commits another offence, he escapes a proper punishment.

Roberts was convicted for keeping Anne chained to the ground by two legs for the whole of the time she was in the barn, and for his failure to protect Anne from harm. However, the sentence sends the wrong message to circus owners and workers about their obligations under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The Act cannot protect these animals. And no, the inspections of the Roberts barn did not identify any of the husbandry problems, nor cruelty to Anne.

Anne has remained at Longleat Safari Park and we understand plans for an ‘elephant sanctuary’ are progressing. It’s worrying that it has taken over a year to add a grass paddock to Anne’s enclosure, she is still controlled with the traditional ankus (bullhook) weapons, and she remains alone. We were also deeply saddened to hear Longleat staff defending Roberts in the media before the trial and in court during the trial. However, let’s hope these plans will mean better life for Anne in the long term, see http://bit.ly/X2mKi2

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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.