Press release

Tough new licensing regime for wild animals in circuses

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Any circuses in England that wish to have wild animals will need to demonstrate that they meet high animal welfare standards for each animal.

High welfare standards for travelling performing wild animals in circuses will be ensured through a strict new licensing regime, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said today.

Any circuses in England that wish to have wild animals such as tigers, lions and elephants performing in them will need to demonstrate that they meet high animal welfare standards for each animal before they can be granted a licence to keep those animals.

Areas being considered as part of licensing conditions include:

  • the rules for transport of the animal, including how long animals can spend being transported without rest periods;
  • the type of quarters that must be provided for the animal, including the size of the quarters and the facilities provided, including winter quarters;
  • the treatment of animals by trainers and keepers, including performance and the training methods that may be used.

Caroline Spelman said:

“Most circuses choose not to feature wild animals in their shows, and I believe that most people would prefer not to see them performing in circuses.  But where circuses do choose to show wild animals, people expect those animals to be kept in the best possible conditions.

“Circuses won’t be allowed to use wild animals in their performances if they cannot meet these high welfare standards.”

The Government will consult on the standards, which will be drawn up following discussion with welfare experts and other interested parties. 

The licensing scheme will be enforced through inspections by Government-approved vets.

In 2009 there were an estimated 39 wild animals being used by circuses in the UK, which included elephants, tigers, lions, camels, zebras and crocodiles. There are now no longer any elephants kept in circuses in the UK.

Notes

  1. A consultation on the use of wild animals in circuses closed in 2010. The summary of responses can be found at:  http://www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-pets/zoos/circuses/.
  2. Under the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925, circuses that use animals have to register with a local authority.
  3. All kept animals in England including in circuses are covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The new licensing system will be brought in through the Act. 
  4. Animal welfare is a matter for the devolved administrations of the United Kingdom.