MSPs unanimously back plans for wild animal ban at circuses

A ban on the use of wild ­animals in travelling circuses in Scotland has been backed unanimously by MSPs at ­Holyrood.

Nicola O'Brien, Campaigns Director at Captive Animals' Protection Society appearing at Holyrood. Picture: PA
Nicola O'Brien, Campaigns Director at Captive Animals' Protection Society appearing at Holyrood. Picture: PA

But circus industry leaders last night branded the legislation out of date, as there are no circuses left which visit Scotland with wild animals such as elephants, tigers and lions.

Even some of those MSPs who backed the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill warned it was vaguely worded, prompting claims it could lead to animal shows such as birds of prey displays and penguin parades becoming illegal.

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This was rejected by Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham last night.

She said: “Most people now consider it outdated and morally wrong to make wild animals perform tricks that they would not perform naturally or to display them in an unnatural environment simply to entertain the viewing public.

“This is animals as entertainment commodity rather than as sentient beings.”

The legislation was also prompted after it emerged tigers were kept caged in Peterhead in the circus off-season.

But Martin Burton, chairman of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, said: “If you read the legislation, the definition of a circus is very weak – but what was happening with the tigers near Peterhead was not a circus.

“This legislation might well ban wild animals from circuses, but there are no circuses which come to Scotland with wild animals.”

Animals classed as domestic – such as horses – will still be allowed to be part of travelling circuses, such as Mr Burton’s Zippo’s Circus.

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He said: “I come with horses and budgerigars. I love coming to Scotland, the Scottish people love to see my circus and we’ll be back there next summer.”

Some circuses south of the Border still perform with wild animals.

Tory and Labour MSPs last night raised concerns about the way the bill was drafted and claimed there was no definition of what a circus is.

Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said the bill could risk criminalising events which “have a good track record of animal welfare”, such as the presence of reindeer at Christmas markets.

And members of Holyrood’s environment committee warned the bill risks “capturing animal performances it had not intended to”.

The Bill was passed at Stage 1 by MSPs last night. It will come back before MSPs for a final vote later in the year before it becomes law.