A call on Parliament for the ban on wild-animal circuses in England: A Personal Perspective by Prabhgat Kaur Sekhon, LPC Graduate

On 20 December 2017, the Scottish Parliament voted to pass the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill, adding to a growing number of European states who have made it an offence for circus operators to use wild animals in travelling circuses. The Scottish Government introduced the ban, not on the basis of animal welfare, but on ethical grounds “…that this practice is morally objectionable to a large proportion of Scottish society”.

Austria, Bolivia, Cyprus and Greece are some of many countries that have banned the use of wild animals in circuses.[1]  Most recently, Estonia has enforced a ban on wild animal circuses following the tragic death of Medi, a circus elephant, who died of heart failure after a circus performance in 2013.[2]

It remains to be seen whether England and Wales will follow suit. Although concerns were raised at the time the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was passed, about the welfare of wild animals being used in travelling circuses, a Circus Working Group formed by DEFRA[3] concluded that “despite the longstanding concerns of many, that there was insufficient evidence to support a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses on welfare grounds”.

In 2011 DEFRA announced that the Government would introduce a licensing scheme in England and regulations[4] were subsequently introduced under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The licensing scheme was intended to be an interim measure prior to the introduction of a full ban on the use of performing wild animals in travelling circuses, which DEFRA announced it would introduce by primary legislation.

Indeed, in April 2013 the UK Government published a Draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, which made it an offence for “any circus operator to use a wild animal in performance or exhibition in a travelling circus in England.”[5] The pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill urged the Government to reach a coordinated position with the Devolved Administrations. The UK Government confirmed that it still intended to introduce a Bill as soon as Parliamentary time allowed. Despite strong support for a ban amongst animal welfare and rights groups, the Government has delayed introducing a ban. Furthermore, in the newest Conservative manifesto the promise to deliver on the ban has been omitted.

In April 2016 the Welsh Government published a review into the use of wild animals in circuses[6] and has consulted on new rules to cover travelling animal shows, including circuses.

To date the Westminster Government has failed to reach a coordinated position with the Devolved Administrations and is now out of step with other states which have opted for a ban, rather than regulation in this area. Given the strong public support for a ban on ethical grounds, it is hoped that a ban can still be achieved in England and Wales in the near future.


[1] https://www.peta.org.uk/blog/these-17-countries-banned-wild-animal-circuses/

[2] https://www.baltictimes.com/estonian_parliament_bans_use_of_wild_animals_in_circuses/

[3] The Radford Review

[4] The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012

[5] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228862/8538.pdf

[6] The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses report

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