Should I avoid the circus?
Is it OK to take my kids to the circus, given the recent allegations of animal cruelty?
Lucy Siegle The Observer, Sunday 17 April 2011 Series: It's not easy being greenPrevious Index Should I avoid the circus?Is it OK to take my kids to the circus, given the recent allegations of animal cruelty? Share34 Lucy Siegle The Observer, Sunday 17 April 2011 Article historyTimes change. Once Nellie the elephant trundled off with packed trunk and the express intention of joining the circus. Last month Anne the elephant, a regular attraction at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus, was freed from a three-ringed nightmare by the RSPCA after footage of her being beaten, kicked and jabbed was picked up on film by Animal Defenders International. Anne, in her late fifties, is now at Longleat Safari Park. The film, ensuing row and expressions of regret from the circus owners, who insist they had no idea that Annie was being treated like this, raises the question of what business an elephant, or any wild animal, has in the circus industry today. According to Liz Tyson of the Captive Animals Protection Society (captiveanimals.org) there are around 100 animals in UK circuses at the moment, mainly horses but including around 20 wild animals. This inventory probably includes around five lions and a number of tigers, zebras and camels. Eccentrically one company toured last year with a fox. Even if I'm willing to accept that many owners and grooms love the animals and do their best to care for them, there remain complications. Not all animals are owned by the circus; some are hired in. It is difficult to monitor treatment all the time, especially during their stays in winter quarters. Animal welfare is based on the Five Freedoms but it might be difficult to guarantee number four – "freedom to behave normally" – to a lion working full-time in the entertainment business and travelling between towns in a "beast wagon". The circus industry says campaigners are getting their knickers in a twist. Actually this might be more entertaining to many of the public than watching a tiger jump through hoops. A huge 94.5% of respondents to a Defra study last year wanted a ban on circus wild animals. At the time of writing, environment minister Caroline Spelman says she is "minded" to introduce a total ban. Already 200 local authorities have banned circuses using wild animals from their land. Only seven out of around 30 UK circus companies now use animals. Why do they persist? Their trade association, the Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, points out that circuses provide quality, accessible entertainment. The Arts Council says, "Circus is an art form that exists in its own right, not as an adjunct to theatre or dance." Learning human circus skills has never been more popular. Support and buy tickets to non-animal circuses who have been brave enough to move on to a new era. Free the elephants (to a sanctuary). Send in the clowns