Wales politics

No welfare evidence for wild animal circus ban, says minister

Lion and Thomas Chipperfield Image copyright Thomas Chipperfield
Image caption Thomas Chipperfield, known as "Britain's last lion tamer", has criticised the proposed ban

Banning the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in Wales cannot be done on animal welfare grounds "because the evidence isn't there", the rural affairs minister has said.

Lesley Griffiths said the proposed ban was based on "ethical concerns", with strong backing in a consultation.

Scotland has already introduced a ban, with England doing so in January.

"I do not want Wales to then become a sanctuary for these travelling circuses," Ms Griffiths told AMs.

Ms Griffiths said 97% out of more than six and a half thousand responses to a consultation last year wanted to make it an offence for a wild animal to be used in a travelling circus.

But, in a letter to assembly's Rural Affairs Committee, she said many of the calls for such a law "focus on perceived animal welfare issues".

Questioned by the committee about the ban on Thursday, she said: "I can't do it on welfare issues, because the evidence isn't there.

"The only avenue that's open is the ethical.

"We all have different ethics, we all have different morals, we all have different opinions.

"However, I can only go by the consultation responses I've had.

"They were overwhelmingly in support of a ban of wild animals in travelling circuses.

"Scotland have already brought the legislation in, England are going to do so.

"I do not want Wales to then become a sanctuary for these travelling circuses."

Image caption Lesley Griffiths: "Every time a travelling circus comes to Wales my in-box is full"

In her letter to the committee, Ms Griffiths said there were now just two circuses touring England and Wales with wild animals, both based in England but regularly visiting Wales.

"Using wild animals in travelling circuses is outdated and fails to reflect current public opinion on how animals should be treated and represented," she wrote.

"There is no benefit to society or to the wild animals that justifies their use purely for our entertainment.

"It contributes little to further our understanding of wild animals and their natural behaviour, or to their conservation in the wild."

But one of the two touring circuses, Circus Mondao insisted its animals were "happy to be a part of the circus".

Writing to the committee, the circus, which has camels, llamas, horses and a zebra, said: "All of our animals thrive in this environment; look exceptionally well; live exceedingly long lives (our past zebras lived to the ages of Sinbad 26 years, Zebedee 32 years old).

"They are free to roam around our circus sites as and when they please,"

"There is no evidence to say that our animals are any worse off than [those at] zoos or safari parks."

'Overwhelming lobbying'

Ms Griffiths was asked by committee chair, the Labour Swansea East AM Mike Hedges, why she was prioritising this ban, rather than focusing on animal welfare concerns such as the number of horses put down after breaking their legs.

She said it was important to "stick to the issue at hand" and not broaden the scope of the bill, adding that there had been "overwhelming lobbying" for a ban.

"Every time a travelling circus comes to Wales my in-box is full," she said.

The ban is due to take effect in December 2020, although Ms Griffiths told the committee it was possible it could be brought in earlier.

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