Today I'm delivering a letter to David Cameron.
Together with over 70 politicians and celebrities, I am urging him to ban wild animals in circuses. Eddie Izzard, Julian Clary, Moby, Michaela Strachan and Brian Blessed are among the signatories. So, too, are famous alumni of David Cameron's old school, Eton - actor Dominic West and sustainable investment leader Ben Goldsmith. We've all joined the initiative led by Animal Defenders International (ADI).
Last year, the government drafted a bill to ban the cruel and outdated practise of exploiting wild animals in travelling circuses, noting: "There is little or no educational, conservational, research or economic benefit derived from wild animals in travelling circuses that might justify their use and the loss of their ability to behave naturally as a wild animal."
Public support for a ban on wild animals in circuses has been consistently high for many years. In 2010, a Defra consultation showed a resounding 94.5% of the British public supported a ban on wild animal acts. Over 200 councils have introduced local bans and around the world 25 countries have placed national restrictions on the use of animals in circuses.
Thanks to the tireless work of animal organisations like ADI, we are now aware of the harm inflicted on animals in circuses. Fifteen years ago, ADI exposed the activities of one of the world's most famous circus trainers, Mary Chipperfield. She and her husband were convicted of animal cruelty - a historic moment that heralded the end of the animal circus boom.
It was the Mary Chipperfield case that sounded the alarm, but it was Anne, the UK's last circus elephant, who ironically dealt the final blow to the circus industry. In March 2011, ADI exposed the miserable, lonely life of this elderly and arthritic elephant who had endured chaining and brutal beatings at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus. This led to the conviction, on two charges of animal cruelty, of the circus owner.
Anne's mistreatment appalled most people; prompting a renewed call for wild circus animals to be banned.
A year later, in March 2012, the government announced its intention to ban wild animals in circuses "at the earliest opportunity". A draft Bill was published last March (2013), but little has been heard of the Bill since. If the government does not act urgently, the Bill's planned implementation date of 1 December 2015 could be missed or possibly dropped altogether, allowing animals to continue to suffer in this crude, barbaric Victorian form of 'entertainment'.
Much animal suffering is not immediately obvious and visible. They are forced to suffer long, arduous journeys and extended periods tied up, chained or caged - with no freedom of movement. Housed in temporary, transportable accommodation, it is simply not possible for circuses to provide an appropriate environment for wild animals. This results in abnormal behaviours that indicate these animals are stressed from their poor quality environment.
ADI revealed that Anne was kept chained constantly, with the chains so short she was only able to take a single step forwards or backwards. Other circus animals observed by ADI were tied for over 90% of the time, some with such restricted movement that they could not even lay down.
Polls show that the vast majority of the public recognise and abhor this suffering. They want it stopped. They'd like to see a ban on circuses exploiting wild animals by touring them and forcing them to perform demeaning and humiliating tricks.
The delay in bringing in the ban has seen the return of big cats to British circuses. A lion and tiger act presented by Thomas Chipperfield, a relative of the notorious Mary Chipperfield, is now performing with Peter Jolly's Circus. What other species might we see if the ban continues to falter? In the past, elephants and bears have performed in this country, a sight I hope we never see again.
As well as the big cats, other wild circus animals include camel, reindeer, zebra, ankole, fox, raccoon and snakes. It would be wonderful to see those animals retired to a sanctuary where they can live the rest of their lives away from the glare of the circus lights - a place where they will not be forced to turn tricks or endure confinement and stressful travel. They deserve a more natural life, more akin to what they enjoy in the wild, where they belong.
Most British people now believe it is unacceptable in the 21st century to keep elephants in chains, or lions and tigers in tiny cages on the back of a lorry. They've backed a ban on wild animals in circuses for more than a decade. The government has promised a ban. Enough is enough, let's get this Bill passed and consign wild animal circuses to the history books.
* My thanks to Fleur Dawes for her assistance in researching and writing this article. If you'd like to find out more about Animal Defenders International click here, and about my human rights and social justice campaigns, click here.
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