The Scottish Government opened a consultation into a possible ban early this year, which closed in April. It was expected to make a decision by December – paving the way for bans elsewhere in the UK – but ministers admitted yesterday that any outcome would be likely to be delayed well into next year.
However, a similar ban is today to be debated in England and could be pushed through Westminster within months, leaving Scotland as a haven for circuses no longer allowed to perform south of the Border.
Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International (ADI), said: “Scotland appeared to be making swift progress on the issue of wild animals in circuses, so we are disappointed to hear there may be a delay.
“England is pressing ahead with measures to prohibit such acts and, without a ban here, Scotland risks being the destination for its wild animal acts leading to continued suffering.
“For the Scottish public as well as the rest of the UK, the use of wild animals in circuses has had its day – now the government must act.”
No circuses which use animals are currently based in Scotland, although two travelling circus operations involving animals – Peter Jolly’s and Circus Mondao – perform UK-wide.
In official inspection reports published by Defra, ADI found that a number of welfare and animal-management issues were raised during the three most recent inspections at Peter Jolly’s Circus and by inspectors of Circus Mondao.
The inspections of Jolly’s Circus discovered that water was not provided for animals in the pre-performance holding area, although it acknowledged that waiting times there were short, while it was also found that water for the tigers to bathe in – a natural behaviour in the wild – was withheld at the time of the inspection and in a vet’s opinion was only offered on a “very occasional basis”.
Inspections of Circus Mondao flagged up problems involving a camel suffering from a recurring wound on her hock and a reindeer showing signs of “significant pruritis”, or itching, causing distress and coat loss.
Ms Creamer added: “The revelations that circus animals are being failed is sadly not surprising to us but we hope this latest evidence, which just scratches the surface of what these animals endure, will quash any doubts about the inevitable suffering and the unnatural lives these animals lead.”
A spokeswoman for the Classical Circus Association, which represents circuses in the UK, said: “These reports are available on Defra’s website. Both circuses have passed every inspection since the start of regulations in January 2012.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We take the welfare of animals, including circus animals, very seriously.
“There are no travelling circuses with wild animals presently based in Scotland.
“However, some do visit Scotland on occasion and we are aware that many people have concerns about the welfare of the animals.
“Earlier this year, we held a consultation on whether or not the use of wild animals in travelling circuses should be banned. Analysis of the consultation is currently underway.”
Peter Jolly’s Circus was not available for comment, while a spokeswoman for Circus Mondao said it did not currently tour in Scotland.