22/04/2012 19:23 BST | Updated 22/06/2012 06:12 BST

A Ban on Wild Animals in Circuses? Don't Be So Sure...

People all over the country punched the air in delight when in March, the long overdue ban on wild animals in circuses in England was announced by the Westminster government, with a licensing scheme planned for the interim. Finally, after over a decade of campaigning, an act of mercy towards these animals who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in such a pitiful situation.

Yet as the days and weeks go by and more details become clear, coupled with the Westminster government's refusal to commit to a deadline for a ban, our delight has rapidly turned to confusion as we cling to the tiny shred of hope that the government really do mean what they say. When the facts are presented to you, it's difficult to remain optimistic.

The documents outlining the proposals are peppered with inconsistencies and contradictions and frankly, the licensing scheme is not worth the paper it's written on. It does nothing to improve the welfare of the remaining 39 wild animals in circuses and virtually the entire scheme relies on the integrity, diligent record keeping and welfare expertise of the circuses themselves. It's rather like asking the tobacco industry to take the lead on the national health strategy.

Further doubts were raised when in a correspondence dated 30 March, a month after the announcement, a civil servant at Defra states: "I am not aware we have ever suggested that the licensing scheme would be a 'temporary' measure... ". More worrying still, 10 year licences will be available for application by circuses, making it hard to believe that the Government really are planning to ban in the foreseeable future.

It's completely disingenuous to announce a phase-in ban on wild animals in circuses on one hand, but outline no proposals to prevent even more animals being obtained by circuses on the other. Some circuses have stated that they would seek to gain more if the licensing scheme went ahead, and as the documents include guidelines for elephants and primates where currently there are neither species in travelling circuses, the Government are clearly not ruling out that terrifying possibility. In short, the scheme could mean even more suffering for even more animals and with no deadline in sight, we are pessimistic.

All this begs the question, just why are the Westminster government digging their heels in over this issue? Let's not forget that the House of Commons unanimously supported a motion to end the use of wild animals in circuses, despite the three line whip employed by the prime minister in an attempt to ensure his party voted against a ban. Conservative MP Mark Pritchard revealed the pressure he had come under by Number 10, but remained strong declaring "I will not be bullied by any of the whips", he later added, "Parliament is supreme - not the Executive. This is rapidly becoming a constitutional issue - not just an animal welfare issue."

All this leaves us scratching our heads and asking what on earth are the government playing at? By announcing a ban with no deadline, are they simply trying to fob us off in the hope we'll pipe down over the issue? We won't. The wild animals unfortunate enough to be part of a circus act today are living miserable lives of forced showmanship, isolation and intimidation in the name of light-hearted entertainment and we will not stop until every last wild animal in England has said 'goodbye' to the circus.

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