We will now hear oral evidence from the European Circus Association and the Circus Guild of Great Britain. I do not think I have to repeat what I said to the previous witnesses, because you were already sitting in the audience. Would you kindly introduce yourselves and perhaps make a brief opening statement?
My name is Rona Brown, and I am a wild animal trainer. I worked in the film industry with wild animals for 60 years. A lot of the animals I get come from the circus, because they are the ones that are handled, reared, used to travelling and used to being told what to do. They do not mind lights, music and people. They are easy to work, and they love doing the work. That is what I have done all my life. I am also a betweeny person for the circuses and DEFRA.
Hello, Sir David Amess. Thank you very much for having me. It is very good that you are giving us a bit of time to speak. My name is Martin Lacey. I was born in Sunderland, and I left England when I was 17 years old, so I hope you understand my English—I am always thinking in German. My family comes from a zoo background, not from a circus background. I became an artist at the age of 18 with my lions, and I have been all over Europe working with them. I have won the most prizes that any artist could win; I have won animal welfare prizes for my show. I also work with politicians in Germany, Italy and Spain.
Q You heard the questions we asked the last panel in relation to animal husbandry and the welfare of wild animals in circuses in the UK. Martin, from an international perspective, when bans have been introduced elsewhere—you said that you travel with your animals—can you expand on what difference that has made to the business? How has operating in countries where there are bans affected the business of travelling circuses?
The problem is that, due to animal rights groups—I have seen this many times when I work with politicians—you are very ill-informed. What bans are there? The bans we are talking about are in eastern Europe, where there should rightly be a ban, because they cannot even look after themselves, let alone animals. You have to understand that places like Germany have a very high standard. In fact, it was great to see DEFRA put these regulations in place. That is what circuses need to go on in the future. Animal welfare is, absolutely, very important.
I have read that animal rights groups say that they have a ban in Italy, which is not true, and that there is a ban in Austria, but there were no circuses in Austria to fight for circuses. Therefore, the wording has changed, which makes you believe that there are bans everywhere. There are problems in Germany—of course we have problems. We have some towns where they say they do not want to have wild animals, and we have been successful every time with legal action.
There are so many studies and facts—this is not what I say; it is actually facts—that show that animals are good in the circus. That can answer many questions that were asked before. It was already proven in the 1980s by the RSPCA and Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington—I think the last report was in 2010—that it is a fact that animals can be good in a circus. Therefore, although you ask me about the change of bans in Europe—I work in Germany, Spain and Monte Carlo, where they have the biggest circus festival in the world—there are no bans. Yes, other countries have bans, but I have never worked in those countries. It is not brought out in the right way. I mean, Cyprus—I do not even know the circus that would have been in Cyprus. So there are places with bans, but it is a bit wishy-washy.
Q Thank you for that answer. If I may, Mrs Brown, I found your written evidence very interesting—how you put across your case. Your submission said that the Bill is
“discriminatory; disproportionate; driven by animal welfare groups”.
Do you think that there is an animal welfare problem with wild animals in circuses at the moment? This morning, the animal welfare groups provided examples of animals they regarded as poorly treated and out of their natural environment, causing them a great deal of stress. I am wondering how the evidence that we heard this morning fits with your view that the Bill is unnecessary.
I think it is totally unnecessary, because we have laws that cover and look after animals in circuses. When the circus regulations came in, there was a circus that had lions and tigers, and it worked very well. It depends whose hands the animals are in, and whether they are any good or not, so that the animals are looked after properly. The circus regulations have ensured that animal welfare is good, that the animals are looked after properly, that the people who look after them understand what they are doing, and that there is no unjust behaviour towards the animals.
When I said that the Bill was driven by animal welfare, I meant animal welfare rights—people who think this is wrong, and try to convince everyone else in the world that it is wrong. In every industry, in every sector, there are people who do wrong things. You have to have laws to protect whatever they are dealing with—whether that is children, old-age people, animals or whatever—and that is where the regulations have done really well, because they can ban the bad people, not give them a licence, and make sure that they are doing the right things, and they can also support the ones who do it correctly.
All people who go to see the circus have a choice about whether they want to see circuses, and they have chosen to see one. It is all very well saying that 97% of the British public support a ban, but there were only 12,000 replies. What have we got? Sixty-six million people? So that is miniscule—the people who replied. The people—families and children—who go to see the circus think it is wonderful. They do not like bad circuses, and neither do I—I have seen bad circuses, and I know what I like and do not like. I do not like the bad ones, but I will support good ones, and I support the licensing system we have.
Q You said, Martin, that animals can be good in a circus. When you say “good”, do you mean that they can lead happy and fulfilled lives despite the fact that a circus is very alien to the natural environment that, technically, the animals were designed to appreciate?
I understand all your questions because, like I said before, I have learned from work with politicians that they do not understand so much about the circus. What we have to understand is that the circus is 250 years old. I am an animal trainer; that has evolved in the circus over 250 years. I was at boarding school in Lincoln, and I had these questions from my friends in the RAF, the Army and normal life—not circus life. Stress really interested me: do animals have stress when they travel from town to town?
I was the first person to do stress tests on my lions, when many people said, “Don’t do that, because they might have stress.” No, we love our animals, and we want to see whether it is really bad for them to travel. I was the first person to do checks with my lions—with lions in Africa and with lions in Zürich zoo in Switzerland. It was a private handler and me, looking at whether the animals do not do enough. The studies showed that my animals were more busy; in fact, we had to ensure that they did not do too much. A lion needs 18 to 22 hours’ rest. When you have two shows a day and training, they have a very full day.
As I said, my family comes from zoos. My mother and father said those things in the 1960s, and everybody thought that they were crazy. They were doing shows in the zoo—they owned Sherwood zoo and Sunderland zoo. They then went into working with the animals, because it was proved, again on facts—Marthe Kiley-Worthington—that the animals benefit from training.
Q But it has to be animals that are brought up in that environment, not taking a wild animal. It is a bit like when you bring up a kid. You either give it a very stable life, or if you are going to go around the world—
Absolutely correct. It is exactly what Rona was saying: you have good and bad in every walk of life. We have good politicians and bad politicians; we have good animal trainers and bad animal trainers. I have worked with big cats since I was 17. We are inspected every week by the vets in Germany. The inspections are a little more rigorous than in England, and a prosecution has never been brought against me. In fact, the vets always speak about my work.
When you ask me about animals in the circus, you have to understand many things. Things have changed. I keep hearing about “tricks”. There are no tricks in a modern circus; it is natural movement. We are working with animals. My lions are 22 generations born in the circus. Yes, they would still be classed as wild animals, and they still have their instincts. However, it is just like when a dog walks around before it lies down on the floor. Those are instincts that dogs have from when they were wild dogs, because they were getting rid of the snakes on the floor before they lay down.
The instincts will stay in the animal, but we have done all the scientific reports to see whether the animals have everything that they need. We have checked whether they are stressed, whether they have what they need in nature, whether they have their social group and whether they are busy enough. As animal trainers, we look for all those things. We asked for those studies to be done, and they are controlled studies with vets because we want the best for our animals. Everything has evolved. Zoos used to have animals in small cages, but they evolved into natural gardens. The circus has also evolved.
Q Looking from the outside, apart from the social aspect, you have a pride of lions—I do not how many you have, but you have a bunch of lions—and then you have a bunch of lions in the wild. Your lions have social interaction, but how much they roam and what they do with their time is very different. You are arguing with confidence, based on the evidence that you are citing, that they can have as fulfilling and uncruel lives where you are as opposed to in the wild. That is an argument that some people find difficult to accept, and this morning’s witnesses argued very strongly against it. They said that it was inherently cruel.
First of all, I am talking about facts. This is not just what I say; it is fact, because we have done enough studies, although they have sadly not been listened to by the English Government. The RSPCA has also rubbished the studies that have been done.
We do not have much time, but afterwards I will give you the modern way lions live in a circus. I have a book; it is all in German, of course, but I have translated the foreword so that you can understand what it is about. There are lots of pictures that tell you what we do with the animals—if you are interested, after the meeting I have the books for you. It was very short notice; they told me on Thursday to come, and I flew in this morning from Frankfurt. I have done that for you so that you can understand that things have changed. I understand what you are saying, because for the last 20 years you have not had a circus with wild animals. Is that correct?
It was very well put together, yes. It was Peter’s licence, and Peter monitored it, looked after it and made sure that everything was correct. They left Peter’s circus after the first year, and on their own they have been unable to get a licence since. It shows that wild animals such as lions and tigers can be looked after properly and comply in the circus.
That is a very good question. In the wild, the life expectancy for a lion would by nine to 11 years old. Because now, as we all know, the wild is getting less and less—there are controlled parks—lions are living to around 12 or 13. It is not like before. Very sadly, we do not know what will happen in the next 20 years, so we should actually support well-run circuses and zoos. For a lion in a circus or a zoo, the age expectancy would be around 15 to 17 years old. In fact, all the lions with me live more than 20 years. I lost a lion just last year that was 28 years old—I think that was probably the oldest lion in the world. We are very proud of that. We have had 22 generations of lions.
What is very important, and what you have to remember, is that animals in circuses are not inbred. From my experience, in a zoo—I am not knocking zoos because my family come from zoos—you are there to look at the animal. We work with the animals. It is very important that we have the Einsteins of the circus world. We are very careful of the bloodline, and because we have been very careful, my family—some of the biggest protectors of lions—can still breed lions for the next 60 years, for future generations, with different bloodlines. That is very important when you see all the different problems in the wild.
I can justify that the animals are very healthy, and because it is a much easier life in the circus than in the wild. We have our own vets and the animals are well taken care of. Life expectancy is of course important, but you also have to remember—this is proven and I sent a link for a stress test in my written evidence—that circus animals not only live to an old age, but are very fit in old age, because they are always moving. It is like a human being: the minute you stop working, it goes downhill, so you always have to keep fit. The animals are kept fit by what they do.
Q Last week we had a debate about trophy hunting, and we heard about lions that are bred to be shot. They are very well cared for, because clearly if somebody is going to shoot a lion and put a trophy on their wall, they want it to look good and not to be bruised or damaged. The lions are very nicely cared for, right up to the moment they are shooed out into the field to be shot by trophy hunters. Do you think that justifies the way they were bred?
First, I was over in South Africa because I also have the Lacey Fund, which is basically a non-profit organisation that investigates trophy hunting. They are not healthy lions—they are inbred and very poorly. They are completely unhealthy. Can I justify breeding lions to shoot them? No, I cannot justify that at all.
Q On a slightly different track, you are very firm in your belief that the treatment of animals in circuses is ethical. Surely you accept that circuses used to have human exhibits as well as animal exhibits—people of reduced stature or with abnormalities. Joseph Merrick, for instance, who was also known as “the elephant man,” was exhibited in circuses. Those people were gawped at for entertainment purposes, and I imagine that you probably recognise that that was an unethical use of circuses.
Just one second. First, we are looking at facts. I have noticed that we are now talking about ethics, which is probably a circus’s strongest point. The way that a child’s eyes open when they sees those animals—no book or picture could ever do that for children. Given what you see when they come close to the animals, ethics is one of our strongest points in circuses, and not just because the animals are well taken care of.
The picture painted is that man and beast were never together. That is not true. It is only in the last 30 years that a picture has been painted that it is very bad that people and animals are together.
If we are talking about ethics, it is a very fine line. Ethically, we love our animals. Ethics is built on religion, and if you really go back and you believe in religion—Noah’s ark; that was a myth, or not a myth—you are talking about animals and people together, and saving animals. If we are talking about ethics, how can people save animals if you do not want people to be involved with animals?
They paint the picture that it is Disney in the wild. It is not Disney. I do not know if anybody has visited the wild, but there are some beautiful places—Kenya is very beautiful. I was in Botswana 10 years ago and there were rhinos. There are no more rhinos in Botswana. As long as the World Wildlife Fund keeps taking lots and lots of money and every time an animal becomes extinct, people such as myself and my family and well run circuses—you asked whether I believe in circuses; no, I believe in well run circuses, not all circuses—are the ones who will have the future gene pools for these animals.
Ethics is completely on the circus side, if we are talking about the ethics of animal ownership. Let us go to what you were just talking about—when there were shows with small people and bearded ladies. If we are talking about ethics and slavery, does that mean every person who owns a dog or cat does cannot have an animal anymore? It has gone a little bit too far. That is where you have a fine line of animal rights and animal welfare, and people have to find a fine balance. If you do not have your feet on the floor, this thing will go out of the window and we have become a real big show when it comes to ethics and animal rights. The local cat that kills a mouse will be in front of a jury for murdering a mouse. That is how far it goes. That is where ethics is really on the circus side.
Q Mrs Brown, I have read your evidence. Can I take you to something that confuses me, at the top of page 3? “They”—by which you mean circus families—
“pay their taxes and obey every animal welfare law. Their ethics of running a business and keeping families together is very high. This is how they treat their animals too. I would like to suggest that government would not ban them if they were a Muslim family.”
What do you mean by that?
This is at the bottom of the first paragraph on what is our page 3, which begins:
“The two circuses are family circuses”.
I can hand you my copy if that is easier.
No, no, it is the reference to the Government not doing this
“if they were a Muslim family.”
I think I have highlighted the extract. I was not certain of the point you were seeking to make.
Q Mrs Brown, I happen to be a practising Roman Catholic. Could I put it to you that I am not aware of anywhere in Catholic doctrine that gives me the right to run a circus? However, that might be a different matter.
Mr Lacey, could I turn to your evidence? Again, I must confess that I did not find it terribly compelling. If I take you to page 4, it states:
“We protect only what we know. Animals in the circus serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts more personally and emotionally than any documentary on TV, thus the circus indirectly makes a contribution to conservation by showing how wonderful animals are and why humans should preserve them in the wild.”
I was not certain about the link between seeing animals up close in a circus and preserving them in the wild. You talked about natural behaviour and about how you are not seeking to make animals perform or entertain. If you look at page 11, that might be you in costume, in some purple sequinned garb.
First of all, this is based on trust. All that training is not done behind closed doors: if you had a live link right now, you could see my lions. They are all in outside areas. A lion on top of a tiger—if you go in the outside cage and you see them in a big outside area, they play. It is only a matter of you being able to do that with a command. They stretch on the back of a lion, and it shows a trust between the person, the animal, and the tiger. It is actually very beautiful. You have probably never seen that; you have seen the photo, of course, but you cannot see the whole movement. It is actually very beautiful to see this trust between them. In fact, that movement is so beautiful that my lion works also with tigers. They jump in the swimming pool—lions do not really like water, and they have a face like they do not really want to be in there. They actually think they are tigers.
Q Mr Lacey, I think we will have to disagree. You have made the point that beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder. I see nothing beautiful in that photograph whatsoever. Nor do I see anything particularly beautiful, natural, educational or conservational in the photograph at the bottom of page 14, where a man who does not look like you—he may be a second cousin once removed—is sitting on the back of a lion that seems to be jumping from one rather large hamster wheel on to another.
You have to understand that we live in a changing world. That is in Russia. Russians have a completely different aspect on ways of training animals, and therefore when you work with people around the world—I was over in Moscow, for example, and I went to talk to them about animal welfare. When I was in Moscow, I saw people sat on the floor in the ice, waiting for bread. I thought to myself, “Why am I going over there talking about these animals when I see the animals are very warm, with nice big coats on them?” I saw their training.
Each country is very different. Because we have become very global, you have a photo like this. For example, my public do not want to see a lion jump through a hoop of fire. The hoop of fire is no problem; every police dog does that, because it is a sign of trust. It is not what I want to see nowadays.
Q I have a follow-up for Mrs Brown. My colleague asked why you thought it was necessary to suggest that the Government would not ban wild animals if the Jollys were a Muslim family. I would like to push you on that, because you said that you felt Christians were being ignored. That may well be so; I have no comment on that. It is not my experience, but you may well have that belief. However, how is that relevant to a ban on wild animals in circuses? Are you actually suggesting that Minister David Rutley sat down and thought, “How can I find a Bill that picks on Christians?”? Is that what you are suggesting?
I am suggesting that it is discrimination against the circuses. This country allows other people to take their camels all around the countryside, and they say it is all right, because they go home at night. No, they do not; they go from show to show, to Scotland and back, here, there and everywhere. It is the same with other show animals—they are all allowed to do it. I am very strong on the religious bit, and I apologise for that—although I should not apologise for being religious. I feel that if the circuses were of a different creed, they might not be attacked so much—I do not think that they would be attacked so much. It seems like everybody hates the C-word, yet most of you—I do not know, because I do not know you personally—have probably got a dog. You look after your dog; you feed it. You do not let it drop things all around the house—
Order. The Clerk and I had a discussion about this. We are talking about something that was submitted as evidence. Perhaps you could make just one more point and then we will move on to the next question.
Q Mr Lacey, you referred to the past abuses of people in circuses as irrelevant. You referred to slavery and said it was also irrelevant because things move on. I think you might have missed the point that my colleague was trying to make. Things do indeed move on, and both Houses now believe that time has moved on sufficiently to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. This is a very specific Bill. You made a comparison to a cat murdering a mouse—the slippery slope argument. This is a very tightly drawn Bill. I wonder if we could focus you on the Bill—not on where it might lead, but on the Bill itself. What exactly do you have against us deciding that we would like to ban the use of wild animals in circuses?
I can answer that very quickly. On Muslims, I do not know what we are talking about. On circuses, everybody should look at how a circus is run. Black, white or green—it does not matter what colour you are.
For 250 years, circuses have been run together with all religions. It is actually a very good thing, because we all have respect for each other. As far as religion is concerned, circuses are great. I will make just one point on your question about slavery—I did not bring that up; they did. The circus has moved on. I understand your comments because I see the pictures you have in your head, but I do not think you have visited a modern circus. It is very sad that you are making a decision on something about which you have been ill-informed. I am trying to say that your arguments are very far back.
To be fair to the Welsh Assembly, they were the only people in positions like yours who came to see the circuses. They wanted to bring in a licence for mobile animal exhibits. They were thinking about doing that, and they came and asked me whether they could visit the circuses to inspect them. I asked the circuses and, quite rightly, they said, “Yes, no problem. Come at any time,” so it was arranged. They came to the circuses to do inspections. They brought vets, local authority people and people like yourselves. They came and inspected the circuses, and wrote the most glowing reports. We were very pleased. I cannot honestly say the same about the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at this time, because we do not believe that any of you have ever come to see any of the circuses.
I do not know about the report. Given that I do everything for my animals, we have had many reports and they have always been positive. It has been proven time and again. I do not know about the report.
Yes, most of the wild ones. They are a huge resource to the film industry. I was in charge of the animals in a movie called “Flyboys”, which had a lion in it—this was quite a few years back. I provided the lion. It came from a British circus. The movie cost £90 million, and £60 million of that was spent in the UK, on UK staff, presenters, actors and everything else—unfortunately not all on the lion. We travelled all around the countryside working with the lion. We travelled here to there to there —location to location, travelling, like they do on the circus—and we worked. Had I not been able to secure that happy, healthy, friendly lion, they would have made the movie abroad and we would have lost that input. I have had zebras off Mr Jolly’s circus in movies.
First of all, I have no financial interest in it, because I am retired. Secondly, there are other places to get wild animals from. A lot of movies now, because of the shortage in the UK, are made abroad. I made a movie in Malaysia with 23 elephants because we had no elephants here. I made a film in Thailand with 14 orangutans. They take their money elsewhere.
Q When I was a child, you could go to a circus and you could see orangutans, gorillas—every conceivable kind of animal. Of course, that has changed over the years because people no longer accept it. Do you not think the old days have gone, Mrs Brown?
I think the answer to that was kind of said before. I am not the person who can set laws. There are standards, and I think that animal welfare and what animals need are much more understood. I think therefore that the experts who write the laws and the vets who stow the animals need to find out what the animals need. I do not think it is a question of banning; I think it is a question of having legislation where you say, “That animal needs this, this, this and this. Can the owner provide that?” If they cannot provide that, they should not have the animal. That is the end of the story. I do not think it is a question of banning.
If you can give them what they need. I am not an expert in primates—I do not know what they need. If you can give them what they need—for example, a zoo understands what a primate needs—I have no problem at all.
I would invite you to us. I am sure you would love to see me work with my animals and show the beauty of my animals. I sent a link—you have to check the links. I think it is very sad that England does not have the shows that we see in Monte Carlo. Every British person who comes to visit us loves it.
We have heard today from the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association, Freedom for Animals, Animal Defenders International, Born Free and PETA. Why do you think that they are all so supportive of this Bill if, like you say, you are so concerned about animal welfare? You obviously do a lot and invest a lot of money. Why are they so supportive of the ban on wild animalsQ ?
I definitely think there were problems in circuses before. It has been going on for 40 years. Forty years ago, in England, there was definitely a situation where you had good and bad circuses. That is where it started. The truth is, you only have to go on PETA’s website—I do not have to give it publicity. Its ideology is to have no animals anyway. That is its future, and how it wants to do things. Everybody sitting here should know that. There is a lot of money made out of emotional pictures of animals not being taken care of. The problem is that it just comes down to laws, and that is why we need your help. Basically, as long as the regulations are at a high standard, those black sheep cannot go on with what they are doing. That is what I do in Germany now. We push, push, push for the laws to make it very difficult. The German shows bring a lot of eastern shows over without the standards for the animals, and that ruins our future.
That is the secret to everything. I do not think the answer is just to ban something. The answer is to find out what those animals need for welfare and listen to the experts, then go on and find out what is best for the animals. After the RSPCA did its study and rubbished Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington, I do not take that seriously anymore. I certainly do not take PETA seriously. A lot of groups would make a lot of money out of these social media and media campaigns.
Q Thank you very much. I have one question, but first I just want to reassure the circus families who are still in the room that there is no discrimination involved in the basis for this legislation; there is certainly nothing to do with religious discrimination. I think all the Members around this table can agree on that. I hope that those families get that clear sentiment here today, notwithstanding the fact that I understand it is a difficult time for them.
I want to ask this of the two witnesses in front of us. Do you recognise that the public perception of using wild animals in circuses is fundamentally changing? If not, what do you consider to be the reason that most travelling circuses in the UK have stopped using wild animals?
It is definitely now much harder to run. There are a lot of costs in taking care of animals. Just for my lions, we have our own lion clinic just outside Munich, and it costs €20,000 a month just to feed the lions. Obviously, the expense is very high.
We have 1.1 million visitors in the summer season. There are 450,000 people in Munich who visit us in our own circus building. There is obviously a lot of interest there, but I would agree there is a lot of scepticism about circuses. Our way is just to be open. We are very open; we show everything. Everybody who knows us knows that we love and care for our animals.
Personally, I do a lot of scientific work. I know that I am good with animals, but to prove it to politicians I need to work with scientists, and we try to find out. We are doing another test now on stress. We did one with travelling and now we are doing another one to back that up. I think that is the future.
I have a son who is 11 years old. He flew over with me and he is interested in this. He loves his animals as well. For my future, that of my children and his children, we are showing and being open. It is possible to have animals in human care and to have a high standard.
Thank you both very much for the time you have spent with us. This has been a very robust session, but we have greatly appreciated the time that you have spent with us, the evidence you have given and the responses to our questions. Our Clerk will accept the books from you. If colleagues would like them translated into English, they are most welcome.