With the support of more than 200 Members of Parliament and the majority of the public, animals used in circuses could soon be set free from the circus life. Last Thursday, British MPs have agreed to introduce a law that would ban circuses from using wild animals., such as elephants and tigers. The government, on the other hand, say there are “legal obstacles” that must be cleared first before an outright ban can be signed into law.
If passed, the ban would take effect by July 2012, under section 12 of the 2006 Animal Welfare Act and would end a practice long considered to be cruel and cause needless suffering to these animals.
Activists have been calling for action against circus operators who use wild animals in their shows. In a well known incident, Animal Defenders International used hidden cameras to catch workers of the Great British Circus mistreating 3 different elephants and other circus animals. The elephants were beaten, stabbed with pitchforks and hooks, and chained up for hours. The elephants can be heard crying in pain from the beatings. In addition to the physical harm workers have done, ADI reports the elephants displayed strange behavior, such as “swaying, rocking and repeatedly bobbing their heads”, a sign that the animals have developed mental problems from being taken out of their natural habitat and being forced to live in captivity.
Representatives for the Great British Circus claim the elephants’ behavior is not strange; they are simply excited during the moments before a meal or a performance. However, the Circus did not defend the worker caught on video and he was fired.
Mark Pritchard, Member of Parliament for the Wrekin, has been a leading figure in the movement to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. Allegedly, members of the government “bullied and threatened” Pritchard because of his support for the ban. Additionally, Pritchard accuses the government of bribing him with a government job if he stopped pursuing the ban. Prime Minister David Cameron claims these allegations are false but did admit that members of his Downing Street team talked with Pritchard and tried to change his mind. Cameron says if he continues his support for the ban, Pritchard will be looked “very dimly” upon for his defiance.
Despite the threats and bribes, Pritchard continues to push for the ban. Well liked and respected, Pritchard has been known to place principles and values over politics. Having a humble childhood as a foster child, his achievements include obtaining a Master’s degree in business management, becoming a director for a marketing company, and now, Member of Parliament. Says Pritchard, “I may just be a little council house lad from a very poor background but that background gives me a backbone.”
Several British celebrities have also been active in promoting the ban. Brian May, guitarist of the rock group Queen, has signed and endorsed a letter by ADI to the Prime Minister. Says May, “The use of wild animals in circuses is cruel, distasteful and unacceptable in the 21st century. Our present government is currently backing away from ending this abhorrent practice.”
Singer Leona Lewis, who supports the World Society for the Protection of Animals, wrote her own letter to her Member of Parliament, Dianne Abbott, saying “I am shocked and outraged that there needs to be a debate about whether it is okay for wild animals to perform tricks in the big top. I add my voice to this campaign and to the WSPA who is lending its support to an alliance of animal welfare groups campaigning to an end to this.”
The movement to ban circuses from using wild animals has long been hindered by the government’s involvement with circuses. Instead of banning wild animals, the government simply wants to strengthen licensing requirements for circus operators. Also, the government claims the ban would violate the “human” rights of circus owners and operators. Perhaps, the time has come for circuses to get with the times and find new acts that do not require animals to be mistreated and live in captivity. Says Nia Griffith MP for Llanelli, “Being towed around in cramped cages and made to perform is medieval.”
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/mamchenkov/2954374325