Trudy Harrison: It’s time to stop the use of wild animals in travelling circuses

Posted On: 
5th March 2018

A ban on wild animals in circuses has widespread cross-party support. Bringing the law up to date is long overdue, writes Trudy Harrison

The British public overwhelmingly support a ban on the use of wild animals in traveling circuses, Trudy Harrison writes

Going to the circus to see wild animals being used for the public’s entertainment is no longer viewed as morally or ethically acceptable in our modern society.

In years gone by, the travelling circuses provided perhaps the only opportunity to see these incredible creatures such as elephants, big cats and bears in close proximity.

Today though we know better and can recognise that the needs of wild animals are not best served by a life in the circus. It is in fact not necessary to use wild animals in traveling circuses to experience the joys of a circus performance.

The success of Cirque du Soleil, in London, Las Vegas and around the world, where people pay to be amazed by acrobats and high wire stunts without a single wild animal being involved demonstrates this.

Furthermore, wild animals are not suited to the travelling circus life and suffer because of not being able to fulfil their instinctive natural behaviour. In modern Britain, is it right that we allow wild animals to travel around the country from temporary enclosure to circus tent and back to a lorry for a journey onto the next town? What sort of a life is that for animals such as zebras, camels and racoons?

Without space to run around, climb trees, forage and interact with other animals of their own kind in the way that they would naturally live, these wild animals’ needs cannot be properly met. If wild animals are to be kept in captivity they require the environment, care, facilities and cohabitation to exhibit their natural behaviour as they would in the wild, which is simply not possible on the road with a circus.

While you may have your own opinions about the ethics of keeping animals in zoos and safari parks here in the UK, they contribute to educational research, breeding programmes and conservation efforts around the world. Most UK zoos have special links to national parks in Africa and South America to increase awareness of species protection and sponsor anti-poaching efforts. Circuses which use wild animals in their performances add nothing to the understanding and conservation of wild animals and their natural environment.

Over that last few years, several Members of Parliament have brought bills before the house in an attempt to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses and I should pay tribute to the hard work of Jim Fitzpatrick, Mark Pritchard, Kevin Foster and Will Quince, in particular.

In 2009, the then Labour government launched a consultation which revealed that a ban on wild animals in circuses is supported by over 94% of the country. Animal welfare is one of those few issues which transcends party politics and I am grateful to colleagues from the SNP, Green party, DUP, Labour, Liberal Democrats and my own Conservative colleagues for their support on this issue.

Wild animals in circuses are trained solely for the entertainment of crowds, to preform tricks and acts which have no correlation to their natural behaviour. The British public overwhelmingly support a ban on the use of wild animals in traveling circuses and bringing the law up to date is long overdue.    

Trudy Harrison is Conservative MP for Copeland. Her Ten Minute Rule Motion will be debated on Tuesday 6 March.