Animal Welfare organisations refuse to participate in ill-conceived consultation on wild animals in travelling circuses

Statement on animal circus consultation from: 
Animal Defenders International, Animal Aid, Born Free Foundation, Captive Animals Protection Society, Four Paws, OneKind, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

The undersigned leading animal protection and welfare organisations are dismayed at the Government’s continued pursuit of an inspection and licensing regime for wild animals in travelling circuses despite the clear wishes of the public expressed in Defra’s 2010 consultation, when 94.5% supported a ban. MPs passed a motion in 2011 directing the Government to introduce a ban.  The majority of elected politicians have indicated a ban is the reasonable and practical way forward. 
The same Defra public consultation gave respondents the option to support either a ban or inspections – only 29.5% supported inspections.  This new consultation does not provide that option and is therefore badly designed.

While we welcome the Government’s long-term commitment “to pursue a ban on the use of [wild] animals [in circuses]” we cannot understand how an expensive and ill-conceived licensing regime can be justified, in place of a ban. Responsible animal welfare groups cannot endorse measures that we believe will fail to protect the welfare of animals and are likely to lead to continued, and perhaps increased, suffering of vulnerable animals for years to come.

We have considered the Defra consultation and formed the same opinion – that we will not be taking part in the public consultation on the draft proposals, as we believe they would be a step backwards for animal welfare. Furthermore we are urging our supporters to contact Defra and let the Government know they will not accept such an approach.

Our major areas of concern include:

The Government is starting from the wrong place and independent legal opinion is that a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses can be introduced under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The Government has received independent legal opinions from a number of lawyers and animal welfare organisations stating that powers provided in s12 are wide enough to introduce secondary legislation to ban an activity where to do so would promote animal welfare.  Animal welfare organisations have provided scientific evidence showing that the welfare of these animals is compromised in such environments.  The Government is relying upon a flawed report, which had previously been set aside.  There is a respectable body of scientific opinion that animals suffer in travelling circuses; there does not need to be a scientific consensus on the degree of suffering, or that animals in circuses suffer more than animals kept for other purposes.

The Defra proposals are ill conceived and will not prevent animal suffering nor promote good welfare. In fact they may lead to an increase in suffering due to an unjustified sense of public confidence in an expensive and inadequate regime. Given the circumstances of constant travel, with animals contained in a variety of vehicles and cages, travelling circuses cannot provide wild animals with the facilities and environment they need to maintain health and welfare.

In the UK such inspections have failed to pick up on animal husbandry deficits and cases of abuse. Sick and injured animals have been hidden from inspectors; excessive chaining, water restriction and abuse have all gone undetected.  The failings of inspection regimes for constantly travelling shows are highlighted in the U.S., in the 2010 Inspector General’s USDA APHIS Audit Report, including: reliance upon broadly-worded guidance causing difficulties with interpretation; difficulty in finding circuses and with inspections and re-inspections; communication between inspectors, etc.

The Government’s consultation and Impact Assessment documents do not include clear provision supporting the commitment to introducing a complete ban.

Indeed the IA does not contain any reference to such a ban being the ultimate aim of Government policy. We believe that any response to the consultation could be seen as tacitly supporting the provision of licensing, especially when no clear cut off date for a ban is provided, and this is clearly not the position of the organisations listed here. 
The Government does not provide a timetable to introduce a ban.

The Government’s statement on 1st March indicated, “work to set out the ethical basis for a ban will proceed alongside the development of a licensing scheme.”

The cost of the licensing scheme is excessive and a wasteful temporary solution

Defra’s IA (2009) advises that the associated costs for the potential regulator are £7,680-£11,500 per year and for the circuses, £129,000-£190,000 one-off improvement costs. The latest IA advises that one off costs will be £75,600 and annual costs £19,400. Thus, costs over ten years would be £269,600. Considering the economics of the travelling circuses, there are concerns that the taxpayer will incur greater costs than indicated.

We strongly urge that the Government sticks to its declared intention to pursue a ban and bring this in sooner rather than later.  In pursuing a poorly drafted licensing regime that sets standards at far too low a level (less than the poorest zoo), it is ignoring the views of the majority of welfare organisations, the public and elected politicians.   

This issue can be solved through regulations developed under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Government should follow the lead taken by other countries including Austria, Greece, Portugal, Croatia, Estonia, Denmark, Finland, the Czech Republic and Sweden.

Animal Defenders International, Animal Aid, Born Free Foundation, Captive Animals Protection Society, Four Paws, OneKind, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

[Note:  The Defra public consultation on regulations for animal circuses will close on 25 April 2012]