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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Sunday Express on British Government’s animal circus licensing failure

Excellent piece in the Sunday Express today, about the failure of the Government’s “interim” inspection/licensing regime for circus animals. We looked at ADI’s photographs of these camels in 2009, 2012 and 2013. Their facilities are just the same. So is it just that the Defra team that has been so lauded by the circus industry for helping them, has set up a scheme to legitimise the use of wild animals in circuses? We think so. We are impressed that the Sunday Express decided to speak up for the poor camels, so often ignored in these debates. In our experience, they frequently suffer brutality and get a hard time because they are seen as slow to respond and stubborn. But they like to explore, stretch their legs, stand under the sun, feel the wind, just as all animals do. But they can’t in the circus. See the Sunday Express piece by the excellent James Fielding at:
http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/384873/Circus-camels-are-still-facing-life-of-misery

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

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.

Greece ban is won!

Success! The Greek Government has banned the use of all (yes, ALL) animals in circuses following a campaign by Animal Defenders International (ADI) and the Greek Animal Welfare Fund (GAWF), backed by over 50 local animal protection groups across Greece.

The new law follows ADI’s undercover circus investigations showing horrific suffering, launched across Greece in 2006 – the same year that the UK announced it was going to bring in a wild animal ban. We’re still waiting.

We applaud the decisive action of the Greek government, who made the time to make this statement about what kind of society they want to be, clearly civilized and responsible towards other species. Surely this must spur on the British government, now that they find themselves lagging behind Greece, Portugal, Austria, Denmark and Croatia in Europe on this issue?

South America is on the case – Bolivian banned in 2009; Peru banned last year; Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador are all discussing it. Greece shows that Europe is on the case – come on United Kingdom! And then there’s the United States….

Greece is the first country in Europe to ban all animals in circuses, not just wild animals. This acknowledges that the traveling circus is no place for animals and that the barren, deprived, unnatural environments, constant travel and stress of being forced to perform are just as damaging for domesticated species as it is for wild animals.

Let’s hope Washington is listening – this is a world-changing movement and its moment has arrived. Together with Congressman Jim Moran, we launched our federal circus bill for a ban on animal circuses in the US last November – get your member of congress to sign up to the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, H.R. 3359!