Wild Animals in Circuses (No.2) Bill

Written evidence submitted by Andrew Lewis (WAC24)

I am writing to you as a member of the public but also one who actually has an interest in the Circus, who watches circus performances and I also have an personal interest in animals. I particularly like dogs as we always had dogs within our family when I was a child and I also like horses, tigers and elephants, preferably Indian elephants.

I would like to mention that I don’t work within the circus industry, however I do have a number of friends across the circus community and as a part time freelance photographer, I sometimes supply circuses and/or artistes with photographic images for their publicity use and I am also a circus correspondent for The Worlds Fair, which is a showman’s weekly newspaper, featuring mainly fun-fairs and circuses.

But this email is naturally all about the animals and the so called ‘wild animals’ that currently feature in English circuses.

But are these animals really wild animals? NO, I don’t believe they are. They are captive bred animals and often bred by the circuses themselves, with other animals occasionally coming in from other captive environments, settling in very well and taking to the circus. Any animal that isn’t keen on the circus and doesn’t take to be handled or trained is usually either sold.

Just because they are not native to this country, doesn’t naturally make them wild! In several other countries there are animals that are not native to that country but that country classes them as domestic.

The animals within the Circus are clean, fit, healthy, stress free, well cared for, loved and overall they are in excellent physical condition. They have to be, as they are on show to the general public and they (the public) are not stupid. They know from their observations of the animals if there is something not quite right and these days, the public will not stand to see working animals in any captive environment working if something isn’t quite right! And in fairness neither would I.

The circus animals stabling is all in accordance with current Government legislation, approved standards and the circuses comply with current licensing regulations. The animals outdoor exercise facilities match and can often can exceed current size regulations.

The current ‘The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012’ expire in January 2020 after seven years in existence. I was recently shown a copy of the five year review of the Regulations, which for me made interesting and very pleasant reading.

The circuses have achieved green lights on over 90% of all the regulations they have to comply with over the first five years.

To me, that seems a fantastic achievement and clearly shows to DEFRA, the Government, to the general public and to the animal rights groups who oppose working/performing animals that the Circus industry does and can take animal welfare very seriously and is clearly very capable of working within approved regulations and to a high standard.

I also think that the Circus industry should publicise the findings of this five year review more, this enabling the general public to have a wider understanding of what the Regulations cover and how the circuses have coped and how well the circuses have taken to working with the Regulations and also the end results.

In my opinion the Regulations were a welcome addition to the circus industry and they should have been implemented at least two decades ago when the circus industry first started asking Government departments for Regulations on animal welfare for all circuses who wished to include animals to adhere to.

Circuses have generally always had good animal welfare practises and have done so decades, however this five year review clearly proves that fact in writing!

So why is there still a need to implement this proposed ban on so called ‘wild animals’?

1. Is this proposed ban based on the circus customers opinions? NO.

Clearly the general public support circuses with animals whether they are wild or domestic animals because if they didn’t support such circuses, then they would of gone out of business a long time ago. In the UK all the traditional style circuses performing under big tops or in purpose built buildings are all self-funding, as there is no subsidy or help from Government, the Arts Council or the Lottery. The circus may be a performance that the public attend for a couple of hours but for the families that run the circuses, it’s also a business and as such, that business has to be run profitably so it survives and also can invest in its business for future years, just as all businesses have to do. ALL circuses based here in the UK are self funding, the ticket sales from members of the public in the towns they visit during their tours keep the shows on the road.

2. Is this proposed ban based on genuine feedback from the Great British public? NO.

The Great British public have never been properly consulted by any one on the issue of animals in the circus, whether they be wild or domestic. The only consultations regarding animals in the circus have been undertaken usually by animal rights groups and the results have then been used by them within the media as an indication of the overall opinion of the general population of this country. I think the last such consultation in England attracted just over 10.000 responses, of which 90 odd percent of the responses received backed a ban on wild animals.

This figure was then widely reported within the media as being the wishes of the general population, which of course was factually incorrect. This figure was even quoted by Ministers and MPs in the House, again, a vastly inaccurate and incorrect statement.

What I fail to understand is how the votes of 10.000 people can be used to influence and dictate to a country with an estimated 60 plus million population and I also fail to understand how Ministers and MPs can stand up in the House and quote this figure, knowing full well how inaccurate the consultation and the results actually were.

3. Is this proposed ban based on genuine independent scientific evidence that supports a ban on wild animals in the circus? NO.

There has only ever been TWO proper independent scientific studies into the welfare of animals in the circus.

The first conducted by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington on behalf of the RSPCA in the late 1980’s and later in 2007 the report compiled by Mike Radford of Aberdeen University as Chairman of the Circus Working Group (CWG) and commonly known by many as the Radford Report. The CWG consisted of a panel with representatives from the circus industry but also from animal rights groups who were to study all the submitted evidence on the welfare of circus animals. The conclusions were that there was little evidence that the welfare of the circus animals was any different to that of animals within other captive environments and there was little evidence to support a ban.

With BOTH independent reports generally supporting the inclusion of wild and domestic animals in the circus, this gives me great concerns as to the authenticity of the information peddled to the general public and Government by the animal rights movement.

There have been a couple of other reports mainly complied by Dr Stephen Harris from the University of Bristol for the Welsh Assembly and then under another name, this report was used by the Scottish Parliament who took it at face value and implemented a ban.

Both versions of the Harris report contained NO factual evidence gathered by Dr Harris and his team, there were NO fact finding visits to the circuses BUT what the report did do, was to deliberately misinterpret the results of other reports and the works of several world renowned animal behaviourists to suit their own agenda for the Welsh Assembly.

Prof. Ted Friend from Texas was one of the experts who had provided research and evidence which was deliberately misinterpreted and he told the Welsh Assembly this and was promptly ignored. The University of Bristol appeared to have cut their ties with Dr Harris and are trying to distance themselves away from his name.

BUT we all know this proposed ban isn’t based on animal welfare, as the Government has already stated previously that it cannot ban wild animals in the circus on welfare grounds, as there was none to answer!

SO, as we all know the Government will now attempt to ban ‘wild animals’ in the circus based on the ethical argument.

But what is ethical and what isn’t? How do you come to an ethical answer to this issue? Perhaps not as easily as some people would think and/or believe.

I personally don’t have a right or wrong answer to the ethical question.

IF you Google the word ethical (which I did), several options come up. One question on Google asks - and then answers for you (see below).

What is considered ethical?

Acting in ways consistent with what society and individuals typically think are good values. Ethical behaviour tends to be good for business and involves demonstrating respect for key moral principles that include honesty, fairness, equality, dignity, diversity and individual rights.

The answer as seen above I found personally very interesting in that it clearly states - acting in ways society and individuals typically think are good values. What they society or individuals think? So does that mean what some people think is right for society BUT in reality it isn’t.

You could say this proposed ban on wild animals in the circus fits this quite suitably. SOME people think this will be good for the society but in actual fact it wouldn’t, as it would only benefit a few and not the majority. There is no fairness to this ban, as it suit’s the minority over the majority and the information portrayed by the animal rights movement and by some MPs is dishonest, unfair and totally affects individuals rights i.e. the rights of circus animal trainers to be able to continue their art form and the rights of circus customers who are having the decision made for them as to what style of circus they might be able or not as the case they be.

You talk about ethics and implementing a ban based on the ethical argument but is this proposed ban in itself actually ethical?

Is the proposed ban actually ethical for the animals, the circuses or indeed the circuses own customers?

I believe the answer to that is NO, I my opinion this ban is not ethical.

SOME individuals think wild animal acts are outdated in today’s society and that no one wants to see them in today’s modern circuses.

BUT are they outdated. Some say yes, many say NO.

Does the wider general public want to see wild animals in the Circus. Some say no, many say YES.

If you take away the (wild) animals, that makes the circuses more human act based and in theory not much different to a number of circuses already operating in England. Is it ethical to take away from the circus customers their right to see well cared for and loved (wild) animals.

NO it isn’t right at all. Nor is it fair and it affects individuals rights to be entertained by whatever circus entertainment they wish.

To me and in my opinion, an ethical opinion is nothing more than a persons own personal opinion.

How can a law be passed on a persons personal opinions?

Is that in itself ethical?

In my opinion is it ethical for a person who plays football for any football club to be paid £150.000 per week. I say no but many say yes.

Same situation just with a different scenario!

An ethical opinion is really just a personal opinion!

Personal opinions should not be used to make laws! In this situation with the circus, the welfare needs of the animals is what is important and any ban or proposed ban should surely be based on welfare grounds.

I have no doubt in my mind at all, that you will receive many emails from people who say wild animals don’t belong in the circus or that the circus is cruel and they will probably give you a number of other reasons which in their opinion is why (wild) animals shouldn’t be in the circus.

I actually believe (wild) animals can be in the circus. There is nothing wrong at all with a human and animal working relationship and it shouldn’t matter whether that relationship is with a working lion, tiger, elephant or camel and zebra rather than a cat, dog or a horse.

Providing circuses can provide the correct housing facilities for the animals within their respective shows, providing they can provide the proper indoor/outdoor exercise facilities for the animals and the animals are handled correctly by the trainers/staff and trained in the reward/praise based way (which is what is currently used and has been for many years), then there is in my opinion, nothing wrong in training, presenting and showcasing the skills of wild and/or domestic animals within a circus.

It is quite clear from reading the five year review of the Wild Animal Regulations, that the vets who carry out the inspections are more than happy with the way everything is working and it says that in the review. IF it wasn’t working how it should be and how it was designed to work then the circuses wouldn’t of achieved over 90% green lights and the vets would have plenty to say about what was going wrong and why.

The circus is the most heavily inspected captive animal husbandry system there is with at least seven inspections in total per year per circus and all at their own expense.

Zoo’s for example who have a greater range and number of captive bred wild animals, only get inspected every three years! How can that be right? In my opinion a three yearly inspection is totally inadequate. Anything can happen during such a lengthy period. I believe zoo’s should be inspected every twelve months at the minimum to ensure welfare standards are maintained.

If the training of wild animals is an outdated or indeed cruel practise as we are told by the opponents of trained animals, then can you tell me why zoo’s and safari parks train animals to do public displays. Sealions and elephants are two very popular animals that are trained within the zoo/safari park industry. The animals are trained in the same way as circus animals but I don’t see these displays suffer the same level of media intimidation or claims of abuse as the circus animals receive from certain sections of the media and society. Zoo’s train animals to give ‘Educational Displays’ for two reasons; one - the public enjoy seeing this in action, as the public do have a great interest in performing animals and secondly; its all about stimulation and giving the animals something different to do and to think about. Animals are very intelligent creatures, that’s why people train them, because the animals are good at learning and also good at performing.

Training animals creates a mental stimulation, It stops them suffering from boredom. I am not knocking zoo’s at all, as I also enjoy a day out at a zoo or safari park BUT within these establishments the majority of the animals spend the greater part of their day doing nothing at all, apart from that is eating and sleeping and people are often heard to say ‘the animals look bored’. Training the animals creates an extra dimension to their overall day, as well as giving them ample time for general relaxation, eating and sleeping.

To me, it is quite clear the Wild Animal Regulations are working and working very well. Reading the five year review, one vet said although welfare standards were already high, the Regulations had further improved things.

Surely that has to be good overall for the animals themselves and also good for the circus industry and also for its customers who can now see for themselves documented evidence that clearly shows the excellent levels of animal welfare standards achieved within the circuses.

I am well aware that such groups as the RSPCA, Animal Defenders International (ADI) and even the British Veterinarian Association (BVA) oppose animals in circuses. The RSPCA and ADI for example have used the alleged abused circus animal as a good cash cow and over the years have created a stigma against circuses with animals. Yet, if you ask the RSPCA about the local inspectors visit a circus, their reports are usually complimentary on the overall animal welfare standards, which contradicts the overall head office stance. I am unsure as to the last time the RSPCA actually prosecuted or attempted to prosecute an animal trainer or indeed a circus. Perhaps they could enlighten us to this information?

ADI since its inception in 1990 and despite all its claims of poor welfare standards, temporary accommodation and so called under cover videos highlighting the alleged abuse of circus animals here in the UK, along with their high profile visits to Westminster with so called TV stars who support them, ADI have only took to court TWO circus people. One in the late 1990’s and one more recently in around 2013, with on both occasions a number of the alleged charges being dropped.

So based on that fact; is the circus as cruel as these groups make out?

Simple answer is that NO it isn’t.

You could ask these animal rights groups, is it Ethical that they manipulate the media and the public against animals in the circus by accusing the circuses of being cruel without producing genuine clear evidence?

You could also ask them if its Ethical to manipulate local councils to ban circuses with animals from using public parks and recreation grounds?

Surely its better to have circuses with animals in your local park, where the local council can have an animal welfare charter which any circuses using that site must adhere to and IF anything untoward was to happen, the local council and the animal health department, along with the RSPCA could step in and do something. IF something untoward happens when a circus is on a private site in a town then the local council has no jurisdiction and no legal powers of entry.

You could also ask the groups if its Ethical to manipulate Government to ban performing animals by continual pressure to do so, financial donations to party funds and by continual lobbying of Government ministers with photos/videos and written evidence without stating where this evidence came from?

ANY photo and/or video or written document which highlights alleged abuse of a circus animal MUST be clearly documented as to which circus it happened, what town/s it happened in and what year the evidence was gathered, witnessed, photographed, videoed or documented and by who.

I would suggest that the Government ministers actually visit the circuses and therefore can meet the people this ban would directly affect, meet the actual animals who would also be directly affected by this ban but also seeing all the facilities provided for the animals.

It always amazes me, the circus industry who are just normal people who to them are doing an ordinary job but a job that involves the training and presentation of animals, together with the daily care of animals all year round, are generally ignored and thought of as lesser people BUT the people who stand and shout louder and wave some money around get all the attention and get believed. How is that Ethical?

The BVA’s page on its website makes interesting reading, as it clearly states their opposition to performing wild animals and states that circuses cannot provide the facilities necessary for the welfare of wild animals in circuses. Surely that must be a contradiction, as surely the vets who inspect the circuses on behalf of the Government state the opposite and I would take a guess that the vets are also members of the BVA?

So the BVA itself is contradicting the evidence generated by its own members! I personally believe the vets to be correct, after all they are the ones carrying out the inspections, they are the ones who have the documented evidence of what the circuses are doing and they see the actual animals and the facilities provided.

Based on the fact that the Regulations have clearly worked well for the circuses, I believe the vets themselves and NOT the BVA who are clearly peddling the same anti performing animal rhetoric as the animal rights groups. If you read their website statement and then read the RSPCA and ADI page statements they contain many of the same wording and phrases.

I would suggest that ‘The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012’ continue after January 2020 and well into the future, safeguarding the future welfare of any wild animals in circuses in England.

Long live the Circus with animals.

May 2019


Prepared 23rd May 2019