Ilona Amos: Scotland clear on circus animals

The Scottish public has given a resounding “no” to the question of whether the country should allow travelling circuses to perform with wild animals.

The circus at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, in the 1960s. Picture: Allan Milligan
The circus at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, in the 1960s. Picture: Allan Milligan

In a public consultation launched earlier this year, 98 per cent backed an outright ban on wild animal acts.

Though there are currently no live wild animal acts appearing at circuses around Scotland, the issue was brought to the fore last winter when animal welfare campaigners released footage of five big cats being kept in tiny cages in a windswept Aberdeenshire field.

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The three tigers and two lions had spent the summer touring with a circus but were moved to a croft near Fraserburgh at the end of the season.

One video showed a tiger pacing around its cramped cage over and over again, behaviour that experts say demonstrates suffering.

The recent Scottish Government survey focused on three main issues – ethical costs and benefits, the travelling environment and respect for animals.

The consultation analysis notes: “The issue of wild animals in travelling circuses has been a source of longstanding unease to many people.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, responses showed the vast majority of people feel animals cannot behave in their natural way when travelling with a circus, with long periods of confinement, cramped living conditions and a lack of interaction with their own kind further impacting their welfare.

Most also feel the only benefits from wild animal acts are to people, though these are not considered sufficient to justify jeopardising the animals’ well-being. What may seem less predictable is the high proportion of Scots who are concerned over the loss of dignity for creatures forced to perform tricks for human amusement and cash gain.

Nearly 90 per cent said circus performances damaged the development of respectful and responsible attitudes towards wild animals in the younger generation.

The UK government has remained committed to banning the use of wild animals in circuses since it announced it would prohibit such acts in 2012, and the Tories pledged to do so in their manifesto.

Wales is committed to a ban and is seeking to be included in England’s legislation, which has already been drafted.

Over 200 local authorities in the UK already have bans on the use of animals in circuses. Worldwide, 31 countries have national prohibitions on animal circuses and similar laws are under discussion in several more.

It just remains to be seen whether Scotland will bring in its own ban, or whether circuses will reinvent themselves due to high running costs and an increasing distaste for animal acts causing audiences to dwindle.