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Government to announce policy on wild animals in circuses

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Conservative ministers have confirmed they are close to announcing the coalition’s policy on wild animals in circuses, more than a year after the previous government’s consultation showed 94.5% of respondents opposed the practice.

The news comes as circus elephant Anne is re-homed at Longleat Safari Park after footage emerged of her being attacked by a then-employee of Bobby Roberts Super Circus.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister James Paice said during a debate in the House of Commons that “although I cannot give a precise time, the policy is very close to completion”.

Last week, actor Brian Blessed brought evidence from the Animal Defenders International campaign Stop Circus Suffering to 10 Downing Street to urge prime minister David Cameron to introduce a ban on using wild animals in circuses.

Speaking to The Stage, Tim Phillips, campaigns director at Animal Defenders International, said: “It’s really been all around the houses, this ban – the public wants it and MPs want it and it is really time to enforce it.”

Former DEFRA minister and Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick also wants a ban on wild animals in circuses to be imposed.

Earlier this year, Fitzpatrick said: “I fought to make this ban a reality when I was minister. We ran out of parliamentary time, but there was the political will there to enact a total ban. The only thing stopping this ban from coming in place is a decision by ministers.”

However, Martin Lacey, owner of the Great British Circus, which uses wild animals in its shows, said that generally “the standard of care is very high”.

He added: “The public want animals. Let the public decide. If they don’t want animals, they won’t come and we couldn’t survive. The truth is, they do come and we do survive.”

Trade body the Association of Circus Proprietors believes the government should introduce a licensing system for circus animals, which would be administered by an independent body and not from within the sector, rather than a blanket ban.

Speaking on behalf of the association, Malcolm Clay said: “There needs to be a body, quite independent of the industry, which sets the standards and then enforces them. But the system has to be robust and there has got to be very strict enforcement, and self-regulation does not easily lead to strict enforcement.

“We have to be realistic and follow trends and if you look at various professions – the medical profession, the legal profession – they have moved away from the professional body disciplining its members to the disciplinary procedures being assumed by separate bodies.

“The ACP believes that DEFRA should agree to a body which is comprised largely of specialist veterinarians, who have no connection with the circus industry, and with some minority representation from the industry.”

At the end of last month, the court of appeal in another EU member state, Luxembourg, ruled that the City of Luxembourg does not have the right to impose a ban on circuses with animals there.

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