Bye, Bye, Big Top: British Circuses Banned From Using Wild Animals

No lions, tigers, bears, or camels in British circuses by 2015.


tiger jumping through a ring of fire
To force big cats and other animals to perform unnatural acts—aka tricks for food—circuses routinely beats and starves the wild creatures into submission. (Photo: Washington Post / Getty Images)

Salvation may be near as 2015 for the tigers, snakes and other exotic creatures enslaved in U.K. circuses. According to GlobalAnimal, Britain may be on the verge of ending the “outdated” practice of forcing wild animals to perform for human beings. Elephants are already banned from U.K. big tops. 

An estimated 150 to 200 animals are today held in circuses, 37 of which are wild. They include zebras, lions, tigers, and camels. The proposed ban does not include “domesticated” animals such as horses or ponies.

Animal Welfare minister Lord Taylor believes that wild animals deserve our respect and that “[Parliament] is developing proposals to introduce a bill as soon as parliamentary time allows. In the meantime, we are introducing a circus licensing scheme to ensure decent conditions for wild animals in travelling circuses.”

In addition to holding a valid license, circus owners must meet “strict animal welfare standards and have a retirement plan for each animal.”

But Jan Creamer of Animal Defenders International fears that the lawmakers are less than committed to freedom for animals.

“This is utter betrayal. To suggest that the public bears the extra cost of an inspection and licensing regime, and then follow up with a ban, is ludicrous.”

While MPs backed a ban on circus animals last year, they also warned that the government could be sued by circus owners and workers.

In the U.S., Congressman Jim Moran (D, VA) introduced the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act last November—which stops short of a complete ban—focusing instead on the reform of cruel training, cramped, prolonged transport and public safety issues. Animal rights crusader Bob Barker is an enthusiastic supporter of the bill. 

Both the U.S. and the UK must overcome their inertia and politics as usual and pass this legislation. The animals can’t wait.