Q I would like to ask about the definition of a travelling circus, especially from an international perspective, given that a number of countries have similar bans. Do you think the definition needs more clarity in the Bill, and if so, are there good examples that we could learn from in those countries that have banned wild animals in circuses?
We would like the definition of a travelling circus to be similar to that in the regulations, as the RSPCA said. The regulations specify that the definition applies to wild animals, but a travelling circus could have wild and/or domestic animals. We would like that to be clarified, possibly for other purposes, and to make it clear that the definition does not concern only wild animals.
Dr Chris Draper:
There is definitely a need for clarity around the definition—that view seems to be shared by a number of people. My feeling is that that could be in the Bill or in statutory guidance—either would be appropriate. Perhaps the simplest mechanism would be guidance, as that would allow for specific exclusions of practices such as falconry that were mentioned in the previous session, and that do not need to be captured within the Bill.
I agree with Chris. This could be done through the Bill or through guidance, but guidance is probably the best option. That will allow us more flexibility for future activities that we might not foresee at the moment but that could fall under the definition. The term “travelling circus” is already very straightforward—“travelling” means moving from place to place, and “circus” can be interpreted as involving some sort of performance, so that clearly states what we are talking about: it is a group of people who move from place to place to perform with wild animals. In that regard the term is already well defined, but there might be grey areas where guidance could help.
Q This question is similar to the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East asked the previous panel about the international experience of this ban. Do these bans work internationally? Where are they working best, and are there lessons to be learned not only from the laws that ban wild animals in circuses, but how those laws are implemented and enforced?
Forty-five countries around the world have some form of ban, either on wild animals, all animals or certain species. Those bans have been introduced on different grounds. Some have been on ethical grounds, welfare grounds and even public safety grounds. The legislation is worded quite differently between countries. We have a lot of experience in South America, where we have conducted investigations that have then led to a public outcry and legislation being brought in. In those countries, we have helped to enforce legislation: in Bolivia, Peru and currently in Guatemala, where we are taking the animals from the circuses and relocating them to sanctuaries and even, in a few cases, releasing them back into the wild where it is possible to have a rehabilitation programme. They are having a much better life away from the conditions that are very similar to how animals are kept in this country as well.
Dr Chris Draper:
The only point I add to that is that the various bans that have been brought in internationally have tackled countries with very different scales of industry, from some even smaller than that in England up to some of our close neighbours in Europe that still have very large circus industries that are under scrutiny for a ban. Some have also included mandatory confiscation as part of the process of bringing in the ban rather than as an enforcement action after a ban has been brought in.
I think bans like this work because they are easy to enforce. There is not a regulation element in these laws that requires a criteria that might vary from country to country, from inspector to inspector. This is very straightforward. Either you have wild animals or you do not. So it is easy to find out whether you have them or not. There is a transition process when you start a ban like that, when you have to tackle the cases of animals present in circuses. From an enforcement point of view, it is a very straightforward ban. That is why they work everywhere.
Q There is a sense sometimes that Britain is leading the way in animal welfare. In some areas we are, but in this area we seem to be very slow and a proposal that was initially put forward by the last Labour Government—that was when I had brown rather than grey hair, it was that long ago—has taken a very long time to get here. Are there any lessons that can be learned about how these types of issues can be hurried through? Are there things that have changed in the period when this was first proposed that you think are missing from the Bill as it currently stands?
It is really unfortunate that it has taken us so long for us to get to this point. Half of the bans in place around the world have passed while we have been talking about the issue and drafting legislation and thinking about it. We have found ourselves woefully behind countries such as Iran and Bolivia. All over the world, these countries have acted—and quite quickly as well. The period from public opinion being against it to legislating has been quite short—usually no more than just a few years—whereas for us it has taken so much longer, which is unfortunate.
I wanted to touch on your last question re the bans. A number of countries do not have travelling circuses based in their own country, like in Wales: they do not have any wild animal circuses based there but they visit from England. That is the case in quite a few of the countries that brought in bans. They did not have any circuses in place but they were visiting from other countries. That has been the case with some of the bans that have come in.
Dr Chris Draper:
From my perspective, I first became involved in looking at this issue in about 2004, 2005, when it was the Animal Welfare Bill. In the subsequent delays to tackling this issue, it is worth noting the introduction of new species to circuses travelling around Great Britain. We have the particular example of elephants, where they were on their way out of the industry and one of the circuses that existed a few years ago decided to bring in a new elephant act. That is quite a strong lesson that we need to act now and not just look at the fact that there might be only 19 animals. It is the fact that the number could increase. Admittedly, that is unlikely in its current format but there is still that possibility for new animals and new acts to be brought in.
When I talk to many people in other countries, they are always quite surprised to realise that we have not banned wild animals in circuses yet, when it happens so often. Nothing has changed since Bolivia banned all animals in circuses some time ago that justifies the delay. Only the fear that there might be a problem that is not there, because when it is banned anywhere else, there is no problem. The public understand it. Society has moved along. This is an issue that is totally understood and the practicalities are easily solvable, so it is surprising we have not done it yet.
Q I would like to come back to some of the questions I was asking before, given the breadth of your experience. This is about enforcement. In our country we have got the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and quite well defined animal welfare standards. DEFRA inspectors have a lot of power to make sure animals are properly cared for and, if they find that they are not, to confiscate and prosecute. I represent a large rural constituency. Most of my farmers, of course, are fantastic farmers, but, sadly, we do have some quite notorious prosecutions for very poor animal welfare, and the powers have worked really well.
Some of the witnesses have suggested to us that in addition to the existing DEFRA regulatory framework, our police force should be involved. What value, if any, do you think that that would bring? Can you draw on your international experience? Who is best placed to do the enforcement?
Dr Chris Draper:
From my perspective, in the current situation with DEFRA inspectors inspecting circuses, they would be doing it within a licensing regime. Those are circuses that have been in effect pre-approved on the basis of an application, and DEFRA inspectors are going to ensure that they are complying with the current standards. That is a very different kettle of fish from the involvement of, for example, the police, whose experience is more in examining criminality, and chain of evidence-type procedures. I think there is a role for both bodies in the investigation of the potential use of animals in a circus after a ban.
I agree. I think it should be both, because we are talking about different things, here. One would be finding out whether the circus had a wild animal, contrary to the Act. The other would be checking the conditions of the animals that were there. There might be situations where the law was breached and there was a wild animal, but there was a need to check whether animal welfare legislation applied, so as to confiscate the animal if it was being kept in bad conditions. The latter would be a job for a DEFRA inspector—finding out about the conditions—but the police could easily deal with enforcement on the question whether there was a wild animal or not. I think there is room for both.
Q Some of the rarest birds are new world parrots—macaws. They are threatened with extinction. Some of them are hybridised for the pet market, so there are parrots—macaws—that could be classified as pets and as commonly domesticated. We have heard from the RSPCA that certain birds—budgerigars and parrots—are probably not covered by the Bill. Do you think we need a bit of clarity about this? If animals that are close to extinction are not covered, that would clearly be wrong. One of the animals listed among the 19 currently in travelling circuses, is, of course, a blue and gold macaw. I wondered what your thoughts were.
Dr Chris Draper:
There is obviously a lot of confusion about the term “domestication” and it crops up within the definition of a wild animal. I suspect some of that could be tackled quite simply. Domestication is a long-term biological process that involves selection by humans for particular desired traits within animals, over multiple generations. The timescale we are talking about is hundreds, if not thousands or tens of thousands of years. That is not the same as hybridisation or having animals in captivity for a couple of generations; those are not a domestication process and have no resemblance to one.
Dr Chris Draper:
In my understanding I think it would be a very sensible application of the guidance relating to the definition of wild animals in the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, which, I think we heard previously, has been tried and tested and is useful guidance. That does specify that budgerigars and canaries could be considered domesticated in this sense, because they have been kept and selectively bred in this country for, I would say, well over 100, 200 years in some cases. To my understanding, that has never been stretched to include any other parrot species. I might be forgetting one or two, but generally speaking parrots would be considered wild animals under the Zoo Licensing Act, and I see no reason for them not to be considered so in this Bill.
I can help on this, because I have the guidance. It is correct: budgerigars would be included and parrots would not. Parrots are considered wild and would be protected, even if they are hybridised. The Zoo Licensing Act discussed that—it was an issue—because some types of licence would apply differently whether an animal in a collection is wild or not. That discussion has taken place for a long time, and that is why the Secretary of State developed very specific guidance. There are several columns that indicate clearly what is a wild animal and provide definitions for what might be borderline. It is all very well defined. All parrots will be protected.
Q So dove acts would be acceptable. Finally, some falconry acts fly with a lure, and there are other birds such as owls in the display. If one of those acts was contracted by a travelling circus, would that be covered or not?
Q The RSPCA has defined a travelling circus as
“any company/group…which…travels from place to place…giving performances, displays or exhibitions” with wild animals, and so on. If we were to accept that definition, would that cover the falconry activity that Bob Seely was talking about earlier, where an act would go out from the Isle of Wight to the mainland and do a tour, in effect?
Dr Chris Draper:
From my perspective, the difference that needs to be explored in the definition is whether a circus is itinerant and on the road from place to place, versus other types of animal exhibitions, which return to a home base either that same day or after a set amount of days. I would say the public are more concerned about the itinerant aspect of things as well because of the perceived and actual impact on animals’ welfare. I am not saying that there is an absolutely crystal clear division between the two, but it could be caught quite nicely within statutory guidance, with specific exemptions for falconry activities and that kind of thing.
Q As I understand it, an important part of the work your organisations do is to trace where these animals may have come from, and the 19 listed are not native to the UK. Will the Bill help you in that work, particularly in working with DEFRA and perhaps the police? Would it strengthen your powers to trace those origins and perhaps return those animals to their original home?
Dr Chris Draper:
That is a very interesting question. For the most part, unless I am completely forgetting one or two, these animals will have come from a variety of sources within the captive industry, so they will almost certainly have been captive bred. They may or may not have been linked to private ownership, existing circuses or the zoo industry. There is a close connection between those three things that continues to exist to this day. How that applies to these particular individual 19 or so animals has not been easy to establish, in my opinion.
I would say, although it might or might not help people in individual cases, the purpose of the Act is not to address these 19 individuals, it is to address all the other possible animals that could come from now on. This is what the Act is all about. The fact there are 19 makes it easier to enforce and manage and find a place. It still will give it some strength, morally speaking, and the public will still be behind it if the 19 were 190—it would be the same situation. It would be a logistical problem, but from the point of view of ideology, why one animal should be banned would not change. In this case, the law has to be seen as a law to prevent a problem from arising in the future, rather than to solve a problem that already exists.
This bans the use of wild animals. I had an initial thought: “Why would any travelling circus take a redundant wild animal along with it, because it would cost money to feed it?” However, recognising that circus organisers and animal trainers will love their animals and will have developed a bond over many years, there is the risk of animals travelling with the circus but not being usedQ . Could their welfare be even more at risk because they may not get the attention and exercise that would have come from performing? Do you also agree that that is a risk to those existing animals and potentially to animals that are bred from them in the future?
I think it is less of an issue in the future. I know there was a worry that when the draft legislation was first published in 2013 it did not directly address that. There is a risk that could happen. We hope it is unlikely, as you say, because of the cost and the effort to travel around with these animals and the fact that their welfare will be compromised. The public do not want to see these animals and that is why they want the ban. We hope they will do the right thing and give up their animals to be relocated at appropriate facilities. I know in their retirement plans it says that they would have a permanent base at their winter quarters. That is what we hope will happen. We accept there is a risk that could happen.
Dr Chris Draper:
We would like the definition of “use” to include being kept within a travelling circus environment. We are fairly convinced that is the only way to ensure the welfare of these animals is met. A large problem comes from the itinerant nature of things. I share your concern that these animals may not be visible enough to have a welfare problem identified by a member of the public, for example.
Conversely, there may be the opposite, where animals are officially not classed as being used, but are still used as a draw to the circus, if, say, they are pitched in an enclosure next to the circus camp. That is still a draw to the public and the animals are there, albeit tangentially, to attract people to the circus. That needs careful scrutiny.
I agree with Chris. Keeping the animals might be an issue. It might be something that needs to be looked at. Hence the role of the inspectors. The inspectors are the ones who, possibly, once they have gone to check a particular circus might see an animal that is wild but has not been used in the performance. They might start to ask questions: “Why is that animal here if it is not used in the performance? Should we apply the Animal Welfare Act? Should we ask questions about why it is moving from place to place if it is a wild animal that requires a different type of lifestyle and husbandry?” Then, perhaps, animal welfare will be advised. That is why it is important never to forget the inspectors, especially in the transition process when moving from having animals to not having them at all. If there are no animals in the future, the inspectors will not be needed, but they are needed now. I agree, a potential risk needs to be addressed and the inspectors can help that.
Q In the interest of animal welfare, is it more important that we ban the wild animals from accompanying the circus, or that we have a transition plan in place for each and every one of the 19 wild animals?
I think the important thing is to create a ban that prevents more animals being added to the equation and then deal with the 19. I think the ban is the first step, because that prevents any future problems from arising, and then you can deal with the 19 animals.
Q I would like to return to protection of animals that are currently in circuses and, indeed, protection of any animals that might be introduced into circuses in the future. First, have you had any experience in other countries of animals being put down as a result of bans? Do you know of that happening? Secondly, do you agree that we need to have in the Bill powers of seizure, and powers to ensure safe and sensible rehousing or rehabilitation of animals that are seized to protect their welfare?
We have not come across any specific cases of euthanasia; I know you mentioned Mexico earlier. We have pulled together some information that we can provide to the Committee, but a lot of fake reports were put out. There were photos of animals, which were not the animals that were in the circus, showing them killed, but it was not the case—it was fake news. Obviously, circuses are not happy if you are legislating, because you are stopping part of their livelihood, so there will be a lot of stories and rumours. You have to look to see the truth behind that.
Whether this is dealt with in the guidance or something else, we and the public would really like to see these animals have a better life at the end of this. Even in winter quarters, as our investigations have shown, there are issues. There are animals that are abused and how they are kept might not be appropriate—there might not be the space to keep them. It would be better, and I am sure it is what the public want, if the legislation ensured that those animals have a better life afterwards.
Dr Chris Draper:
I concur. Born Free has said repeatedly, alongside the RSPCA, that we would happily work with Government, the circuses and any other stakeholders to ensure a good retirement for any animals currently in use. I think it is worth reiterating that the proposed ban is on the use and therefore the activity. It is on the use of wild animals in circuses; it is not a ban on circus proprietors owning animals. There is a distinction to be made there.
That said, I think it is very much in the public interest that a plan is put in place, either within the guidance or through some other mechanism, to reassure people that the animals’ needs are not going to be compromised and that they will live out their life in the best possible situation.
I would welcome a power of seizure—having something in the Bill that gives that power. It would not be used all the time, but would be an extra tool to be sure that problems do not occur. In cases where there is a conflict in terms of the owner not wanting to relinquish the animals or not wanting to take the animals to the RSPCA, Born Free sanctuaries or places where they could be rehabilitated, having that power would, I think, be a positive thing.
Q Also, you mentioned one circus trying to reintroduce elephants in this country. Three of the respondents to this Bill have suggested that elephants and lions could and possibly would be reintroduced to circuses in this country, even under the current licensing regime. Therefore, do you believe that, if possible, we should introduce this ban sooner than
Dr Chris Draper:
In an ideal situation, absolutely. I think the risk of new—well, they are not new. The risk of species that are not currently in use being introduced is very real. There was, as I understand it, an application by a big cat exhibitor for a licence under the current system. In my understanding, the current licensing system was put in place as a temporary stopgap, but the unfortunate consequence of it is that it legitimises the use of animals in circuses. I think we need to do an about-turn from that fairly quickly, and if that can be done before January next year, so much the better.
I agree. Our organisation conducted the investigation of those elephants when they came to a circus in this country. There is actually an act that toured multiple countries across Europe. Our investigation found evidence of chaining for 11 hours of the day and abuse from both the person caring for the elephant and the presenter. That is a real worry. A lot of these elephants have been captured from the wild and still perform in circuses. Anne the elephant was permanently chained in her winter quarters and violently beaten. The thought that that could happen fills us with dread.
It has been a few years since big cats have been in this country, but our investigations have shown that they are kept caged most of the day and exhibit stereotypical pacing behaviour to show that they cannot cope with the environment they are in. All wild animals suffer in circuses, but elephants and big cats suffer especially.
Dr Chris Draper:
The point we discussed a little earlier about giving powers to the police for site visits and inspections and seizures would be an improvement on the current draft of the Bill. I defer to the RSPCA’s experience on the existing powers, given that it works so closely on those issues.
In terms of animal welfare, the Animal Welfare Act comprehensively covers that. The bit it does not cover is in identifying whether there is a wild animal in the circus. You need powers in the Bill specifically for that purpose. It does not need to be a DEFRA inspector to cover that—it could be the police as well—but you need that extra power to be able to enter a location and find out which animals are kept there, whether they perform and whether they are wild. That is kind of beyond the Animal Welfare Act.
I agree and defer to the RSPCA. Our issue is that we have exposed suffering and violence where inspections have not. It is about being aware. While these animals are allowed to be used, it is quite difficult to obtain evidence of their suffering. It takes long-term observation, and inspectors who just come for a couple of hours might miss things that are happening behind the scenes.
Q I am very grateful to Oliver Heald for doing such a good job defending the rights of Island falconers. However, on a serious point, this is not only about people in remote places who cannot necessarily go back to the animal’s home overnight. I know that the previous three individuals answered this question, and I would like you to do so as well. I want to make sure that, in your opinion, there will not be wiggle room in the Act for falconers—whether they are in Scotland or the Shetland islands or Cumbria or Cornwall or the Isle of Wight, where you have to travel, where they could be away—to be challenged by animal welfare campaigning groups such as yourselves over the way they treat those animals if some of their work away where the animals are held captive and live is seen to be irregular. What is your opinion on that?
Dr Chris Draper:
Taking what you said as examples, it sounds as like there is a justifiable challenge for the animals’ welfare based on the traveling you describe, but I do not think this is the legislative instrument to do that under; I think it would be better served looking at it differently, under the Animal Welfare Act, for example. I think it is important to keep the focus of the Bill as narrow as possible, to traveling circuses, as has been defined in common usage and as has been attempted to be defined in other constituencies—in Scotland and around Europe—in order to achieve what the public want and to protect the animals in use. I would not want the Bill to be derailed by greying the area into things like falconry when that could be specifically excluded, but that does not negate my concerns about the welfare of birds in falconry.
Q I think the answer to that is that I cannot imagine a circumstance where it becomes so irregular and so often that it would potentially qualify. The problem is, as we know from the Government over the years, unintended consequences are often the consequences of things that were not intended in the first place, so the less wiggle room there is, the better the clarity of the law and the better people know the guidelines within which they can operate. Would you agree?
We are against the use of any animal for entertainment purposes, but that does not mean that we are going to use the law to address the use of all animals for entertainment purposes. Obviously, the law deals only with wild animals. We are also against the use of any animal in circuses, domestic included, but the law does not cover that. If the law is specific enough, it will cover only the bits that the law defines—and I think it is specific enough. That does not mean that we are going to stop campaigning against the use of any type of animal, because there are other laws that might deal with that.
Q Out of interest, do you think that show jumping or falconry are inherently cruel? You could say that they are not what wild animals are there for. Therefore, there are animal rights campaigners who would say that we should outlaw racing—so goodbye, Cheltenham—falconry and show jumping, and that we should get rid of a lot of those things because we are forcing animals to do something that is unnatural for them, even if they have done it for generations. What is your opinion on that?
Certainly, we are those animal rights people who say that. We believe that animals have an intrinsic value and they have the right to choose what they want to do. If you force them to do activities that they are uncomfortable about, and they are stressed by the way they are being trained, that should stop, because there is no need for it—there is no need for those things. That is our general attitude to using animals for entertainment in a blanket entertainment context and for all the animals involved.
Having said that, there are different ways to deal with it. One is to stop people doing them. You do not have to use bans all the time to stop activities; you can persuade people to stop doing those activities. The level of cruelty in each case varies to the point where you might have laws such as this one, which address those entertainment activities where animals are used that most people already recognise as cruel—most people, even if not all. That is what will happen.
The progress of animal protection over the years has always been pushing the envelope to the next phase, and people are starting to recognise animal suffering which they did not recognise before. They are sentient beings. That will obviously have an effect over the years. The obvious first step, however, is to deal with the cases that are the worst of all. Of all captive animals kept, and all animals used in entertainment, the circus, in my opinion, is the worst.
Q You used the words “free to choose”. Animals respond to their behaviour types; they do not have freedom of choice in the same way that humans do. When you talk about being free to choose, you are getting into a grey area, are you not? A lot of people would dispute the idea that animals are free. Okay, going to a circus is not natural behaviour for an animal—I get that—but what about galloping with a human on?
I agree that there is a grey area and different interpretations. I am an animal welfare expert—that is my background. The fact that the behaviour is used in a domestic environment does not mean that that behaviour is the behaviour that the animal would use if it was alive and doing it their way.
For instance, an animal running from a predator is natural behaviour, but running too much is no longer natural behaviour, nor is running for another purpose, because it has been hit or for other reasons. There might be behaviours that have their origins in natural behaviour that have been forced and modified to the extent that they become an animal welfare concern. From that point of view, you can say that even humans have some behaviours that are instinctive and some that are learned. That is no different from any animal. We have feelings; they have feelings. We have intentions; they have intentions.
Regarding the legislation, we know there is long-standing public and political support and commitment to legislate on the issue, as opposed to some of the other issues. People probably accept that there are welfare issues involved with those and things that we might speak out against, but there are inherent welfare issues with the travelling nature of the circus.
We also accept that there are issues with domesticated animals in travelling circuses. Actually, most opinion polls show that there is majority support for a ban on those species as well, although it is not quite as high as wild animals and it has obviously not been consulted on and debated. We would like that to be addressed in the future. There have been so many arguments about the science, the consultation process and all the markers along the way over the past 10-plus years. That is why it is really important to get this legislation through. I am sure people will address some of these other issues in due course.
Q Thank you for your contributions. Do you as groups agree that societal attitudes towards wild animals in circuses have changed over time? Why do you think that might be? What are the drivers of that? I am interested in your thoughts about public perception.
That is something we have seen over the past 20 or even 30 years. Public opinion polls have shown that there has been consistent support— 70% or 80%—for a ban. The Government consultations in England, Wales and Scotland show that 94.5% to 98% are in favour of a ban. I think some of that is because people generally are more aware of the needs and the lives of animals through documentary programmes, scientific research that comes out and investigations by groups such as ours, which expose living conditions and the training and handling techniques used in circuses. When people are aware of that inherent suffering, attitudes change, and over time that is happening not just in this country but all over the world.
Dr Chris Draper:
All I would add is that I think public attitudes have reached a crescendo. They perhaps reached a crescendo quite a few years ago and we have been kept waiting. This dates back to discussions in Parliament in the 1920s, in the run-up to the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925. Concerns have been raised about how animals fare when they are used for entertainment and exhibition in circuses. Those concerns never went away, but awareness increased of what was going on behind the scenes. This is not just about people’s ethical and moral consideration of animals, as it was in those days. It is an emerging picture, but the picture is consistent: the public are now united against the use of animals in this way.
I would go even further than that. Some 300 or 400 metres from here, years ago, there was badger baiting, bear baiting and bull baiting going on. In 1835 we banned those activities. There was already a concern then that having wild animals in a circus-like spectacle, where they fought with each other for entertainment purposes, was wrong. The enlightenment—this political, social and philosophical movement—started there, and it has not finished. Time is constantly moving. Our views about how we treat animals are opening up. We see animals as sentient more than we used to. We realise they are suffering. We realise their needs better than before. This drive towards a belief that we do not have the right to impose suffering on animals just for entertainment purposes has continued. It is not surprising that it has taken some time, but it has never stopped—and it will never stop, because that is what social progress does.
Q On the discussion about defining travelling circuses in the Bill, there are concerns, which we have discussed at length, that defining them too narrowly may mean that certain activities, such as falconry, cannot happen. It sounds as if you would be quite understanding of an approach that involved using guidance to define things more clearly. I think one of you actually said that might be a more flexible approach that could adapt to changing circumstances in the years ahead. Obviously, primary and secondary legislation can take time. It would be interesting to hear your more definitive views on that. If we were to move forward with guidance, would your organisations be willing to get involved in that process and help review it?
Yes, we would be very happy to contribute to that and to comment on the Scottish legislation as well. Guidance is needed for clarification. As Committee members have mentioned, there are circumstances in which people are not sure whether the legislation would cover something. Guidance would help provide clarity.
I would also be happy to be involved. Guidelines give special flexibility, so you can perceive problems and make modifications in the future, when there is suddenly an unforeseen type of activity. We have the reality right now; there is a variety of activities, and therefore it is already neweded right now.
Q I wanted to go back to Angie’s written submission, which talks about the circus animals suffering. There is a general understanding that banning wild animals from circuses is a good thing, and we want to do that, but I have not yet heard—apart from in small bits—about the levels of suffering that we have in circuses at the moment. There is a sense that that has already been banned, so any animals that are already there must be well treated; otherwise, how would people pay money to go to a circus if they felt animals were not well treated? Can you give us a sense of your assessment of the welfare of the animals we have in circuses in the UK currently? What is the best way to assess the wellbeing of an animal in any type of captive environment, especially one where they are subject to so much touring and travelling?
I think the British Veterinary Association covered it well when they talked about the inherent welfare issues of travelling and the fact that the accommodation needs to be small and collapsible and to be put on the back of the trucks. Big cats, even though they are not currently touring, will be in a series of small cages on the back of a lorry; that is their permanent accommodation. Sometimes they might have access to an exercise enclosure, but it will only be for x hours during the day. Elephants will be kept chained all night, at least, and possibly all day.
Other circus animals, such as camels and zebras, might be tethered and on their own. Obviously, they are herd species, so those are unnatural social groupings, which was touched upon earlier. The provision of the accommodation is not suitable, nor is the constant travel. The report by Professor Harris, commissioned by the Welsh Government, said that there is no evidence to show that these animals get used to the travel. Some people think it does not matter and say, “Oh, they’ve been touring for years.” That is still going to be a stressful experience that will compromise their welfare.
There are issues across the board, but also those that are species-specific, depending on how the animals are socially grouped, managed and trained. The welfare of the animals is compromised, and that has been accepted by veterinary bodies. The scientific evidence is overwhelming about the issues involved.
Q Are there any concerns at the moment that the keepers and those who are employed to look after wild animals in circuses are, in themselves, doing things that are deliberately cruel? Or is it the fact that keeping wild animals in circuses is, as a practice, cruel? Do you have any examples of mistreatment of animals currently?
In itself, the very practice will compromise the welfare of animals, but there are examples. When we did an investigation of Peter Jolly’s Circus, the camel was being tormented; it was spat at. There are different things, but it is hard to get at those—that involves investigations. The longer the term that you can observe them, the more you will see more, as we have found ourselves. It will be a picture that builds, but it is difficult to see if you are just visiting a circus. You might see it from stereotypical behaviour that animals will do to show that they are not coping with their environment—a behaviour that is not seen in the wild. With the big cats, it could be pacing back and forth. It could be head bobbing or weaving, which has been documented by DEFRA about one of the circus camels. There are tell-tale signs, but some of it is about the nature of species. If you are a prey species, you will not show how you are feeling. Some of these things are not apparent, so we will not be able to see just by looking at these animals how much they are suffering.
I could add something more specific. The training is often ignored. The problem, when you inspect a performance, is that you do not see the training—you just see the performance. My inspectors inspect a circus and see how the animals are kept and how they perform, but they do not see how they are trained. The methods used train animals to behave in an unnatural way. That is the only thing the circus makes the animals do—unnatural behaviours. That is why they are entertaining—because they are unusual. That forces the animals out of their instincts and their comfort zone and to change their behaviour. Often, that creates fear and distress.
There are positive reinforcement methods, but positive does not mean benign. It means adding a stimulus, as opposed to negative enforcement, which removes a stimulus. Positive reinforcement means, when you see a behaviour, you use a stimulus to make it happen again—to reinforce it. That might be running; if an animal is running in circles, that animal might be running initially from fear, and that is reinforced by the sound of the whip. The whip is the stimulus that produces constant fear. You can condition the animals to react to something, in training, that causes pain, but that, in performance, is just a noise. In the performance, you just hear the noise, but you do not see the pain associated with the training, which the animal remembers, and that is why he is forced to act. All this suffering, which is often not seen, is inherent in the whole performance element.
There is testimony from Sam Haddock, who was a trainer of elephants in Ringling Bros. PETA got his testimony out to the public in 2009. Everything was recorded. He was training small elephants, and it was very cruel. He admitted, “Look, this is the only way I can do it. Being cruel is part of the way I can train these animals. There is no other way they can learn.”