Good afternoon everyone and, in particular, welcome to our two witnesses. I say immediately to our witnesses that parliamentarians are as not as ghastly as they are painted. We are used to being robust with each other but we do understand that, for our witnesses, this is often the first time you have done such a thing, so deep breaths, relax and enjoy it. Although these evidence sessions are relatively new in terms of parliamentary procedure, the idea is, before we scrutinise the Bill, we are trying to get evidence so that we produce the best legislation possible. Can you project your voices, please, and kindly introduce yourselves?
Q 84Thank you for joining us today. This morning we heard evidence from animal welfare groups talking about how important it is that wild animals are banned in circuses. As circus operators, can you give us your perspective on the Bill and also on the role of wild animals for entertainment?
From my perspective, we have been licensed for seven years. We have had more than 40 inspections in those seven years, all of which have been satisfactory, if not more than satisfactory. Like any other inspection, there are tiny little things that have to be rectified and they have been rectified immediately. There is no reason that the animals that are in circus now cannot remain in circus, because the inspectors have inspected them that many times. We work with them all the time. That is our life.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did a review on the report, and the report, I think, is outstanding: the animal welfare of the circus was of a very high standard over the five to six years that we have done the licensing. We are still licensed at the moment to keep our wild animals in circuses. I do not believe they are wild animals; they are exotic animals. None of the animals we own is wild. They are exotic animals, all born and bred in this country. Reindeer are classified as wild animals only in a circus. They are not wild anywhere else in the UK.
Q From your point of view and the way you run your businesses, can you explain what efforts you make around animal welfare? We heard this morning about issues of cruelty towards animals and the sense that this ban is overwhelmingly supported by the British public, which I imagine includes those people who attend and watch circuses. I will be grateful for your perspectives on that.
They are grazing animals—hoofed animals—so for the majority of the day, apart from maybe one or two hours, they are outside grazing. Their veterinary care is top, because our licence requires us to keep records on a daily basis. Four times a day, for every single animal, we have to record the weather, the environment, what food they have had and what we have done with them, such as if we walk them from the paddock to the big top. There are no welfare problems at all.
We did a survey while we were doing the tours of the circus in 2010—I know that is a while back now—that 10,000 people filled in, and 84% was positive. Some of them did not even realise what the survey was and just ticked all the boxes because they weren’t really reading it. You say that an overwhelming majority want to ban animals in circuses, but the majority of those people are against us having animals in any form of entertainment. Slowly but surely you will find that they try to ban everything.
Q There is always this fine divide, and because one can does not necessarily mean that one should. Do you think, in this day and age, with the popular access to wildlife television programmes and conservation and so on, that animals should be used for entertainment in that way? What good is that doing, apart from entertaining?
It is not just the entertainment in the ring. We have children coming to the circus who have never seen, smelled or touched a camel. I have a fox that is now 15 years old that I hand-reared from three or four days old. The only foxes that children see are on the side of the road, dead. They do not see these animals. Safari parks and zoos are very good in their own way, but not everybody can afford to go to a zoo or safari park, because they are very expensive.
Mr Jolly, I quite specifically did not mention zoos or safari parks, because I think you can construct a perfectly—the question I asked was whether, with access to internet and television—
My service is a family service. It is family orientated, so we deal with a lot of children. They do not get to see these things. Why should we deprive those children of contact with live animals? They are not wild animals; they are live animals. As Carol said, our animals, in our eyes, are exotic, not wild animals.
I believe you are basing some of your evidence on the idea that the animals that you have are domesticated; you mention, Ms MacManus, that camels are domesticated in most areas of the world. However, at least one person has written to us saying that elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years. They could be counted as domesticated animalsQ .
Q I am not suggesting that you do; I am asking whether you believe that elephants should be counted as domesticated animals. If so, why should we not allow elephants in a circus? We had a submission from the Fédération Mondiale du Cirque, suggesting that all circuses should have animals, including lions, and a submission from a circus in Germany that also has lions, making the case that having lions in circuses is perfectly acceptable. Were it possible for you to have elephants and lions, would you? Also, do you agree that if we do not ban wild animals in circuses there is every possibility that somebody else will come in with a circus that has elephants or lions, or both?
My point of view is that I do not have elephants or lions at the moment, and I do not intend to, so that would not apply to me. Obviously, I cannot speak for another circus coming in from abroad. That is up to the Government, in terms of imports and exports, and whether DEFRA would allow them in. I cannot see why, if a circus came over from another country, it should not operate.
There are not many—no, I should not say that really. The regulations with DEFRA should have carried on. I do not believe that they should have stopped. That would have stopped any issues with anybody who did not keep their animals correctly. What we had to do for the DEFRA regulations was more stringent than what zoos, safari parks or any other industry has to do. If someone does it correctly, why should there not be other kinds of animals in circuses? However, at the moment we are arguing for our animals. We do not have any elephants or cats.
On the definition, let us start with birds. We are told that budgerigars and canaries are not wild animals; they are domesticated in Great Britain. However, apparently macaws are considered wild. You have described some other issues. How clear do you think the definition is of what is or is not domesticatedQ ?
There are a few animals. I have a miniature cow that is on the circus licence. It should not be on the circus licence; it is a cow. Hundreds of people keep macaws as pets. Mine has bigger facilities than any pet macaw. He is allowed to free fly, and he has a large enclosure when he is not free flying. I got him from a home that kept him in a 2 foot by 3 foot cage. These animals, in some hands, are allowed and are classified as non-wild, but because the word “circus” is added to the licence they are classified as a wild animal.
Q Carol, you mentioned exotic animals. An exotic pet is a wild animal that is being kept as a pet, is it not? So is an exotic animal not a wild animal?
It is usually one that is domesticated in other countries, but may not be domesticated here, such as a camel. We classify that as exotic. My cow is an exotic cow, because it comes from India.
Q We were told earlier that some of the wild animals are disrupted and upset by a lot of travel. They are essentially wild, and although you may persuade them to perform by a form of training, moving them from place to place disrupts and upsets them. It is just wrong, we are told.
Q Yes, but what about my point that an itinerant lifestyle for wild animals, which are the ones covered by the Bill, is wrong because it upsets them and disrupts them?
None of our animals shows any sign of stress at all when they are travelling. In fact, some stress tests have been done on lions, which are wild animals. I am sure that Mr Lacey will tell you about that later, because I do not know the ins and outs of it, but proper stress tests have been performed.
SomeQ of the answers to Mr Hoare’s questions were about children being able to see the animals because they are in a circus. Is that different from going to see an animal in a safari park, for example, where the animal is in a habitat in which it is not required to perform? In a way, safari parks try to recreate the natural habitats that animals live in, whereas in a circus the animal is expected to perform for a crowd, which is completely at odds with what it would do in the wild. I want to challenge some of the comments that you made. What would you say in response to that?
I would rather that an animal perform in a circus than that it be in a safari park, where there are hundreds of cars going by with fumes, noise and children banging on the windows. There is no comparison. Our animals are calm and are handled gently; they are not in a safari park situation, where youngsters and the cars driving past are upsetting them. We do not do that.
Zoo animals are moved around, too, but they are generally not used to it. I am not an expert on zoo animals, but I believe that most of them are usually sedated to be moved around, or at least to be put in the transporters. We do not do any of that. All our animals are quite happy to move along the road. They travel next to the same companion that they have travelled with all the time. They are used to the other animals, used to the environment and used to us. There is nothing strange or stressful.
I do not really know. I have not really got a plan. I have inquired, and several places would take them. I do not really want to give them away but I cannot see them happy at home—they would not be happy at home on their own. The other animals would carry on travelling with the circus. So, I do not really know. I have not got that far yet.
Q Thank you very much for coming to give evidence. Could you talk us through a bit more about how you look after animals, and what their sleeping conditions and training regime are like? Could you talk us through an average day for the animals?
An average day starts at about 8 o’clock. My grazing animals are outside. They have inside and outside access, so it is up to them whether they go out or come in. They are cleaned, mucked out, fed any concentrated food that is required, and watered. Young animals in training go into the circus tent and are walked through, to start with. With all the animals, we walk them into the tent so that they can see the atmosphere, and we feed them as we are doing it. That might be for 15 minutes, and they then go back out into their paddocks for the rest of the day.
At 4 o’clock, we bring them in to what we call the stable tent, where they are kept before the performance, and they are groomed and checked over. If they wear any sort of headdress or harness, that is where those are fitted. They do their performance, which lasts anything up to three to four minutes. They stay in that tent until the end of the whole performance and then go back out to the grazing. That is a typical day for them.
The camels and the zebras basically walk around the ring. They stand on what we call pedestal stands and the zebra walks in and out of them. I have a donkey and a lamb in the same act, and a miniature cow, and it lasts anything up to three minutes.
The training starts when they are young and it is not training them in tricks. The training is in teaching them to lead, and to come to you when you want them. With all our animals, we can go to the edge of our enclosure and call them and they will come up to us, and that is done only by reward and training.
You take it out. It is very similar to with children. If children start doing work wrong, the more you push them the worse it gets. So all you do is say, “Right, that’s it. Training session over. Start tomorrow again”.
Q You said that you have substantial regulation to monitor all that. Have you had any issues where you have had to bring vets in, or any crises in the last year? What sort of situations have you had?
No crises. We have had two inspections this year up to now. We have had no health problems. In our regime you have to worm, and the lead vet has to check them four times a year. You have to record any tiny problem like worming and things like that. It all has to be checked. We also take weights four times a year.
Q I can understand that this is very difficult and emotional for you. We can appreciate that. It is a whole way of life for you. What has struck me from what you have said is that in addition to the wild animals—you call them exotic animals—you have other animals. You might be thinking, “If this does come through, we’ll look to diversify. We may have other animals,” because clearly you love animals and you think children should have these opportunities. Could you talk to us about how you might diversify—maybe you could have some snakes?
Q Talk me through that. You feel that you would be able to keep the animals you have, which are wild animals—although you call them exotic animals—but do something else with them.
Q So if we decide to go down the route of banning wild animals in circuses, we also need to look at the definition of a circus. You said you have llamas and goats. What other animals do you have? Do you have dogs?
Q You both said that you either would not get rid of them or would not know what to do with them, and that they could not stay at home. If you were doing county shows, though, that would not be every week.
Q I don’t know about that, but I have seen reindeer in situations at Christmas. I do not know where they have come from or whether they are resident there, but I think it is the fact that they are moving every single week that is seen as the problem.
Q You were talking about being in safari parks, where cars were going past them, but in the confined space of a circus ring there are hundreds of people around them, in very close proximity, tapping, cheering, shouting,
I think they quite like it, actually. Our zebra doesn’t like it if he does not perform; if, for any reason, he does not perform, he gets stressed. He knows when the music is on. He stands waiting at his door for the young lad to take him across to the ring to work with me—there is only one handler who handles him. He likes performing. When I had my old zebras, they used to free-range around the site. They would always be in the big top, where the shade was, or wandering round the site.
Q I think you have given us food for thought. To pick up on what Ms Newton said, it is clear that you care very much about the welfare of your animals, and you are operating under a strong and robust regulatory regime at the moment. I am slightly confused about the point about car noise in a safari park.
You did speak about noise as well. Unless your audience is made up of children who subscribe to the Trappist way of life, they will make some noise. All I have to do is take my jacket off the hook and my dogs know that we are going for a walk —animals will always respond to those sorts of things.
Ms MacManus, your submission to us is dismissive of ethics, if I can put it that way. I can understand why you make that argument, but I want to ask whether you accept two things. First, do you accept that one rotten apple will spoil the barrel? In your sector, poor behaviour has shone a spotlight on the whole issue, which means that the good, the bad and the ugly get hit in exactly the same way.
Secondly, I do not say this to draw a direct comparison, but I am pretty certain that the family who were fourth generation bull or bear-baiters would have said, “But we’ve always done this; it is our way of life”, because that is what they would have known. Things change when perception and attitudes change. This almost goes back to my first question: do you accept that, just because one can, that does not necessarily mean that one should, and that in the general national consciousness the time of having wild/exotic animals in a circus for entertainment or educational purposes has reached its sell-by date, has passed and is a bit old hat, and that people want to move on because our ranking of animals has changed and is evolving?
The majority of people still want to see circuses. You are talking about a handful of people who hit the media, Facebook and all that, who are whipping up this hysteria. When we go to a village or a small town, everybody wants to come and see the circus, which contradicts that. We would be out of business if we didn’t have the general public coming to visit us.
We might not want to use them, but what we are saying is that if they can be kept according to the proper methods and welfare, you should be allowed them. You should not be allowed them if you cannot meet the stringent welfare standards.
Q Do you detect any difference in the way that those two animals experience being in a circus? Before you answer, the evidence we heard this morning was, “Don’t worry, Mr Chalk. Horses are different because they’ve been domesticated over centuries.” My question is whether the experience of a camel is in fact any different from that of a horse.
I think that the camels are much more laid back and less likely to get spooked. The horses pick up on little things and decide, “Oh, I don’t like that today. I don’t like that spotlight.” The camels just come in and do their little job. Sometimes the baby will have a little dance. They are definitely much more laid back and calm than the horses.
For my own understanding, and hopefully that of the Committee, I will try not to repeat things, but ask about a few things that seem to be at the heart of the argument and of the debate. You are saying that these animals are not, in any meaningful sense, wild, because they have been domesticated all their livesQ . Have they been tamed to the same extent as domesticated animals would be in this country?
Q You are saying that the evidence shows—correct me if I am wrong; if you could point to the evidence, that would be great—that their levels of stress are no different from other animals. One of the central arguments we heard this morning was that being in a circus was not true to their nature.
The thing is, we cannot explain it without people actually coming to see it. You have to see it for yourself. The animals are not stressed in any way. They are happy in the environment they are in. They are as far away from wild animals as you can get. We class it as handling; taming is not a word we use.
Q The second central point seems to be the generalised discussion about whether having animals in circuses is an idea whose time has passed. You are obviously disputing that. Will you continue to keep animals in your circus, but just non-wild, legal ones that are more domesticated—horses and dogs?
Q Okay. One of the problems, as one of my colleagues mentioned earlier, is that there has been some bad publicity about this, which has obviously damaged the cause of having “wild” animals in circuses. Do you accept that there is a considerable difference, as Mr Chalk was saying, between having hunters such as lions and tigers in circuses, who do roam wildly and are in pain in an enclosed space, and more passive animals such as camels?
Q Fair enough, sir, but in your lifetime you will have come across circuses with wild hunters and not just—sorry, I do not know the correct term for something that is not a hunter.
Q Do you accept that there would have been a difference—morally or practically—between having predators such as a lion or a tiger and having non-predators in a circus?
Q I am guessing here because I am no expert on this, but it seems to be a more complex argument to make that you can hold a lion or a tiger in a captive environment and give that animal a happy life, in the same way as you can a camel. I can actually readily accept the argument for the camel, given that camels hang out with people and have done for thousands of years.
Q I just have a couple of questions. Thanks for coming along today—we appreciate it. In terms of the animals we are talking about now and the ones you have, I understand that you want them to carry on travelling. As you know, the legislation we are considering at the moment does not allow for that, so I just wanted to ask again about retirement plans for the animals. Mr Jolly, you seemed to indicate that this might be enough for you to decide that you do not want to carry on in the circus arena anymore, and you, Ms MacManus, you were not too clear what was going on.
Q Forgive me, I do not know how your operating model works. You do have people at your winter quarters throughout the year?
Q So that would mean that, although you do not have definitive plans, you have options for your two reindeer, your zebra and your two camels.
Q Thank you very much.
I have one other quick question. There is a lot of public interest in this Bill, and some people want to see this happen as soon possible. If the legislation was put in place before
Order. I am sorry, but the time has passed so quickly. I want to thank our two witnesses for the time you spent with us. We thank you for your full and frank responses to the questions. You have given very valuable evidence to the Committee. Thank you very much indeed.