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Big-cat trainer criticises bill banning wild animals in circuses

Thomas Chipperfield, who works with animals for touring show An Evening With Lions and Tigers. Thomas Chipperfield, who works with animals for touring show An Evening With Lions and Tigers.
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One of British circus’ last big-cat trainers has criticised the news he will no longer be able to feature wild animals in shows in England.

Thomas Chipperfield, whose family history of animal training dates back more than 300 years, described the passing of a bill banning wild animals in circuses as “really devastating” and said it represented a loss of his ancestry and culture.

This week, the Wild Animals in Circuses (No 2) Bill passed its third and final reading in parliament and will now to proceed to royal assent. It brings an end to a legislative process that began in 2006 and means travelling circuses in England will no longer be able to feature wild animals from January.

A ban is already in place in Scotland and is planned for Wales.

Chipperfield is one of the last animal trainers in the UK to work with big cats – lions and tigers – for live circus shows.

He claimed that despite arguments from animal rights activists that keeping wild animals for circuses is cruel, his animals are treated well and inspected regularly, meaning the ban “is not based on any welfare concerns”.

“All you hear is emotional rhetoric – that it is outdated, Victorian, archaic – that doesn’t say anything about animal welfare,” he said.

Once the ban comes into force, Chipperfield will still be able to keep and train animals for film and TV and other live events, but said: “It just means that my ancestry and my culture in my own country is gone.”

Chipperfield added: “It sets a dangerous precedent regarding how people work with animals in future. Circus work is identical to any other form of working with animals. Any good animal trainer works in exactly the same way, whether that’s in the circus ring, or on a film set, or even in zoos.

“But the fact we work with animals in a sawdust ring in a tent, that shouldn’t really come into it at all.”

The passing of the bill in the House of Lords on July 23 was celebrated by animal rights activists, who have campaigned for the abolition of wild animals in circuses for more than 20 years.

Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, said: “I am delighted that parliament has finally banned wild animals in circuses and we can draw a line under this archaic abuse in England, Scotland (where there is already a ban), and soon, I hope, in Wales.

“There has been overwhelming public support for a ban since Animal Defenders International began exposing the horrific cruelty and abuse behind the scenes of British circuses of animals like chimpanzee Trudy, Anne the elephant, and far too many others. I am delighted that England is finally catching up with more than 40 countries that have already passed such bans.”

Circus at 250: The wild history of Chipperfield’s Circus, the UK’s greatest big-top show

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