Committee backs wild animal circus performance ban, but key questions remain unanswered

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)

Environment Committee
Stage 1 Report: Wild Animals & Circuses Bill (pdf)
Published: 6th December 2019

“The fact that the Welsh Government has introduced the Bill on ethical grounds has raised some challenging questions, such as why is it ethically acceptable for wild animals to perform in other settings but not in circuses? Why is it ethically acceptable for domesticated animals to perform in circuses? Should any animal be expected to perform purely for entertainment? The Welsh Government has yet to answer some of these questions.”
– Committee Chair, Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East)

1. Opponents to a ban argue welfare concerns lack evidence

There were strong views either way on the need for a ban. Supporters said the needs of wild animals simply can’t be met in a circus environment, while opponents argued that a ban would be disproportionate and the use of wild animals should be carefully licenced instead.

Opponents argued the Welsh Government proposed a ban for purely ethical reasons and couldn’t prove arguments that wild animals were poorly treated.

Northumbria University’s Prof. Ron Beadle said a ban on ethical grounds had to prove the use of wild animals had an overwhelmingly negative impact. Other opponents argued that the ethical justification for a ban based on animal dignity could easily be extended to falconry and horse racing.

Animal welfare organisations pointed towards public support for a ban (though opponents argued this was organised opposition), which is as high as 80%. RSPCA Cymru said there had been a clear change in attitudes based on a greater understanding of animal psychology.

Opponents also argued a ban would infringe on human rights as it targeted a cultural minority and infringed on a right to own and enjoy property and pets.

A majority of committee members agreed that AMs should support the general principles of the Bill, but this wasn’t unanimous (and there’s no idea of who rejected it).

2. It was argued that the scope of the ban is too narrow

The ban will only apply to the use of wild, non-domesticated animals in performances by travelling circuses. Circuses will still be able to tour with wild animals and train with them. Supporters of a ban argued the Bill should support an outright ban on the use of wild animals, including for display and training, as well as their use in static circuses.

One respondent, Freedom for Animals, argued for a ban on domesticated animals too, saying they suffered from the same issues as wild animals. PETA supported a domesticated animal ban as a long-term aspiration. There were, however, arguments made against extending a performance ban to cover domesticated animals:

The Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister confirmed the ban will only apply to wild animal performances with travelling circuses; they’ll still be able to keep the animals.

The Committee concluded the Minister’s answers were “weak and contradictory” and demanded further clarification on the status of non-performing wild animals, as well as the use of wild animals in static circuses and the use of domesticated animals.

3. There are no provisions in the Bill on the future of the wild animals themselves

There are 19 wild animals kept and used by UK travelling circuses. There’s nothing in the Bill saying what should happen to them after a performance ban. Circus Mondao said they might have to be kept in winter quarters, while ban supporters argued the animals should be rehomed in sanctuaries.

The Minister said it was up to the owners to decide what happened to them, though the Committee recommended the Welsh Government reports back on any discussions with DEFRA about support and advice available to travelling circuses – including rehoming options.

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