U.K. To Ban Wild Animals in Circuses

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Scotland was the first country in the U.K. to ban wild animals in circuses, but others are following its lead. foras05/Shutterstock

Circusgoers in the United Kingdom will continue to be entertained by clowns, acrobats and dog acts, but wild animals will no longer be part of the performance roster. Wild animals will be banned from circuses across England by 2020, the government announced in late February. The move was motivated by "ethical grounds" and followed numerous surveys that found the public preferred to watch shows without wild animal acts, said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in making the announcement.

Similar bans were announced in late 2017 in Ireland and Scotland and are being considered in Wales.

The British government had been considering a ban for a decade, according to Animal Defenders International, after more than 20 years of campaigning by the animal rights organization.

The announcement was made in a review of current animal welfare regulations. Those regulations expire on Jan. 19, 2020.

"The Government does not intend to renew the Regulations as it intends to ensure that a legislative ban is introduced by then. The Regulations will then be allowed to expire," the report reads.

Similar bans already in place

Animal activists have accused circuses of keeping the animals in stressful, unsanitary conditions and often abusing them to get them to perform.

"Having campaigned to stop circus suffering around the world for over 20 years, we’re delighted that a ban is finally imminent," Jan Creamer, president of ADI, said in a statement to the media. "Circuses cannot meet the needs of animals in small, mobile accommodation and ADI has repeatedly documented suffering and abuse. We congratulate the U.K. government on consigning this outdated act to the past where it belongs."

camel and zebra graze outside a circus
A camel and zebra graze outside a circus. CoolImagesCo/Shutterstock

Just two circuses in the U.K. have licenses for wild animal acts — Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus. According to the Independent, the two circuses have a total of 19 animals between them: six reindeer, four zebra, three camels, three raccoons, a fox, a macaw and a zebu.

The British Veterinary Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) have both campaigned against wild animals in circuses and have supported nationwide bans.

According to the BVA, "BVA considers that the welfare of these animals is emblematic of the way we treat all animals under the care of humans. The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus — in terms of housing or being able to express normal behaviour."

More than 40 countries, including most of Europe, have nationwide bans on the use of wild animals in circuses. In the U.S., Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus shut down in May 2017 after 146 years due to declining ticket sales and high operating costs. It closed the year after the circus retired its elephants.