UK to Ban Wild Animals From Circuses by 2020

wild animals from circuses

Story at-a-glance -

  • The U.K. has committed to banning wild animals from circuses by 2020; more than 94 percent of the U.K. public is said to be in support of the ban
  • Close to 40 countries worldwide have already banned wild animals in circuses, including Scotland, which became the first country in the U.K. to enact such a ban
  • In the U.S., there is no federal ban on the practice, however, more than 80 jurisdictions in 29 states have full or partial bans on the use of animals in circuses
  • In 2017, H.R. 1759, The Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act (TEAPSPA), was introduced, which, if passed, is intended to prohibit the use of wild animals in performances of a traveling animal act, including circuses, carnivals and parades in the U.S.

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Many people equate circuses with images of elephants doing tricks or tigers jumping through rings of fire, but these cruel practices will soon become images from the past in the U.K., which has committed to banning wild animals from circuses by 2020. The move follows the high-profile case of Anne, Britain’s last circus elephant, who was repeatedly beaten with a pitchfork by a circus owner — atrocious acts revealed to the public via secret video footage captured by animal rights campaigners.1

Anne has since been rescued and spends her days in a safari park, but the case raised enough public outcry that a call for a ban on wild circus animals was made, and now it’s close to coming to fruition. There are 19 wild animals left in U.K. circuses, ranging from reindeer and camels to a macaw and zebras, and all will hopefully get to experience freedom soon.

The government issued notice of the coming ban, letting circuses know that no more licenses for wild animals will be issued and their use will be banned within a two-year period.

More than 94 percent of the U.K. public is said to be in support of the ban. David Bowles of the U.K.’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) told the Daily Mail, “The complex needs of wild animals can never be adequately met in a circus environment and regular transport, cramped and bare temporary housing, forced training and performance are all unavoidable realities for the animals.”2

Wild Animals Increasingly Banned From Circuses Worldwide

The U.K. will join close to 40 countries worldwide that have banned wild animals in circuses. This includes Scotland, which became the first country in the U.K. to enact such a ban. Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland’s environment secretary, said in 2017:3

“This is an important act that will not only prevent travelling circuses ever showing wild animals in Scotland in the future, but will demonstrate to the wider world that we are one of the growing number of countries that no longer condones the use of wild animals in this way.”

In the U.S., although a survey found two-thirds of respondents were most concerned about animals used in circuses, there is no federal ban on the practice. However, more than 80 jurisdictions in 29 states have full or partial bans on the use of animals in circuses, and, in a law that took effect in 2018, Illinois became the first state to ban the use of elephants in circuses and traveling performances.4 Even Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus announced it would retire its elephants by 2018.

Further, in 2017, H.R. 1759, The Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act (TEAPSPA), was introduced, which, if passed, is intended to prohibit the use of wild animals in performances of a traveling animal act, including circuses, carnivals and parades.

For now, Animal Defenders International (ADI) estimates there are about 300 circuses in the U.S. that still use wild animals. ADI, which is running a worldwide campaign to ban wild animals in circuses, highlighted eight key reasons to support TEAPSPA:5

Animals used in circuses are not given sufficient space; they’re housed and transported in small cages.

The animals are kept in transport vehicles for long periods of time, including for long periods before and after travel

Circus animals are not able to exercise normally or engage in natural behaviors

The animals are kept in abnormal conditions that cause extreme stress, such as separation of family members, housing predators and prey in close proximity, and forcing solitary animals to be crowded together

Physical abuse is common to teach the animals tricks; “training tools” often include bull hooks, electric prods, whips and metal bars

Circus animals suffer from severe health, behavioral and psychological problems

Traveling circuses increase taxpayers’ costs for regulation and enforcement

Because circus animals are kept under highly stressful conditions, they can become very dangerous and may pose a risk to the public if they escape

Stop Supporting Venues Using Wild Animals for Entertainment

Even as attitudes and regulations are changing about the use of wild animals for entertainment, with an increasing number of people opposed, animals are continuing to suffer in captivity for this purpose. However, you can opt out by choosing not to support venues that exploit wild animals. According to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS):6

“Seeing wild animals perform in circus acts sends the wrong message to children, cultivating disrespect and the illusion that the animals would willing engage in these behaviors. In reality, the animals are whipped, beaten and harassed into performing for the public.

Due to the nature of traveling circuses, where animal accommodation must be small, lightweight, collapsible and fit on the back of a trailer, circuses simply cannot provide animals with the space and the environment they need to maintain physical and mental health.”

PAWS recommends that you not patronize any use of animals in entertainment and boycott drive-through parks, zoos and circuses that participate in irresponsible breeding programs, while also encouraging your friends and family to do the same. Anthropologist Margaret Mead, Ph.D., famously said, “Never think that one person doesn’t have the power to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”7

Indeed, if the public chooses to stop visiting traveling circuses and other outlets that use animals for entertainment, they will cease to exist — even without legislation forcing their closure first. That being said, you can also make a difference by contacting your local and federal representatives and asking them to ban wild animals from circuses if such legislation does not already exist in your area.

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