As a child, I used to get rather excited by the prospect of a visit to the circus; one reason was that I wanted to see all the exotic animals that I could not normally get close to, apart from those that I saw in zoos, which in those days were rather caged affairs. Obviously, however, things have changed. We are all now entertained by brilliant films on TV and in cinemas that contain amazing footage of wild animals in their natural habitat. Most zoos are made to look rather boring in comparison with what David Attenborough shows us. Thanks to many animal welfare associations, we are also much better educated about world wildlife and how it should be treated. For those who really want to see wildlife close up, let us not forget the modern tourist industry. People can save up their pennies and take themselves off on a safari or a trip to the rainforest. These are the ways in which we can see wild animals at their best, and there really is no excuse or need for wild animals in circuses.
The more we know and understand these magnificent animals, the more we recognise that a circus tent is no place for them. Some of them might have been whipped, goaded or herded into their rather pathetic performances. I can still remember from my visits to the circus that when the lions and other big animals came in, extra security was immediately put on and a man with a whip, if not a chair, would appear. That tells us everything that we need to know. Of course these animals are not safe in the circus environment; they have to be controlled. Of course they cannot be relied on to relax and enjoy themselves; they are in an unnatural environment, surrounded on all sides by human beings, of whom they are instinctively frightened. Frankly, these animals’ continued presence in the circus ring, even if there are only about 39 of them, diminishes us all.
I know that some will argue that some animals are not, in fact, wild because they were born in captivity. We heard that this afternoon, but I do not see what difference that makes. A lion or an elephant still has natural instincts; it still needs proper space to move around in, and being driven around the country for much of the year in the back of a van is no place for these animals.