Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Animal circuses – a political timeline.

Posted: 23 February 2017. Updated: 24 February 2017


2005 – A MORI opinion poll reveals 80% of the public want wild animals banned in circuses and 65% support a ban on all animals. Only 7% strongly oppose the idea of ban. An NOP poll in 2004 showed 63% backed banning all animals. Opposition to all animals and in particular, wild animals in circuses has remained high for over two decades. The EFRA committee reviewing the Animal Welfare Bill considers using the Bill to ban wild animal acts.

2006 – The Grand Committee reviewing the Animal Welfare Bill expresses concerns at the treatment of wild animals in circuses. Government commits to banning “certain non- domesticated species” during the third reading of the Animal Welfare Act. As a result, an amendment to include a ban on the face of the Animal Welfare Act is withdrawn. The commitment was reaffirmed during discussions in the House of Lords.

A similar move is subsequently announced in the Scottish Parliament. ADI releases ‘Animals in Travelling Circuses: the science on suffering’ report revealing animals shut in trailers and denied adequate exercise in British circuses.

2007 – Flawed methodology results in the exclusion of relevant evidence and inconclusive findings of Circus Working Group. Chairman advises “the status quo is not an option”. Announcing the report Defra concludes it will never use the methodology again for such an assessment.

2009 – An ADI investigation reveals shocking abuse of elephants imported from Germany, performing at the Great British Circus. The circus had been inspected on six occasions. Detailed legal report and expert evidence sent to Minister. In a presentation to MPs earlier in the year, the circus claimed to have “no chains in the elephant tent” – the ADI evidence proves the elephants were chained for up to eleven hours every night. Following public demands, Defra launches public consultation on animal circuses.

2010 – Defra announces consultation results: 94.5% of respondents back a wild animal ban with 96% of the opinion that circuses should be prevented from obtaining further animals.
Minister announces "a new Labour Government will bring forward measures later in the year that will bring an end to this practice".


2011 – An independent parliamentary poll commissioned by ADI finds 63% of MPs would like to see a ban; only 14% disagreed.

ADI releases shocking footage of Anne, an elderly arthritic elephant, chained in a barn and physically abused. Ponies and a camel are also abused by circus workers.

A YouGov poll commissioned by ADI shows 72% of the public back a wild animal ban; only 8% are against. The Coalition Government announces plans for a licensing regime in place of ban due to potential legal challenge (legal advice later confirmed this to be incorrect). ADI publishes case studies in ‘Out of Control’ report documenting failure of inspections to protect animals.

A Government claim that a ban may be illegal under EU law (despite bans already in place in Austria, Greece and elsewhere) is debunked by the EU Commission. In a written answer by Mr Potocnik, the Commission states: “Circuses are specifically excluded from the scope of the Zoos Directive, and are not covered by any other EU legislation. Therefore, the welfare of circus animals remains the responsibility of the Member States.” Expert legal advice obtained by ADI states that an outright ban on the use of wild animals in circuses would not breach the Human Rights Act or the EU Services Directive.

A debate of the Backbench MPs committee votes unanimously for motion directing the government to introduce a ban by July 2012.

2012 – Defra announces that "The Government will seek to introduce primary legislation at the earliest opportunity to achieve its much-stated desire to ban travelling circuses from using performing wild animals.” Interim temporary licensing system is to be introduced. ADI and other leading animal protection groups, refuse to participate in consultation noting only 29.5% supported inspections when consulted in 2009. Circus owner Bobby Roberts is found guilty of offences under the Animal Welfare Act for suffering of Anne the elephant – based on ADI video evidence.

(The only circus prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act. Three circus individuals were convicted of multiple counts of cruelty in 1998 and 1999 following ADI investigation – Mary Chipperfield Enterprises, under the 1911 Act.)

2013 – Government publishes draft legislation to ban wild animal acts with proposed implementation December 2015; Welsh Assembly pledges support. Licensing system brought in as interim measure. EFRA Committee suggests ban only apply to big cats and elephants; ADI refutes grounds for this suggestion, with detailed report on conditions of all animals in circuses. Defra confirms government will ban all wild animals.

A YouGov Poll reveals that the public support bans on all wild animals (lions 78%, tigers 79%, bears 81%, blephants 74%, camels 79%, zebras 73%, even snakes which are less popular amongst the public and there is less awareness of their needs have 57% backing a ban) – all of the animals listed have appeared in British circuses during the last decade.

2014 – Prime Minister informs ADI deputation that he will ban wild animal acts, saying “we’re going to do it”. Suffering of the last performing UK big cats revealed by ADI at Peter Jolly’s Circs. Prime Minister responds to letter from ADI and 75 high profile campaigners: “let me reassure you that it remains our position that the use of wild animal acts in travelling circuses is an outdated practice and that we will introduce a ban as soon as Parliamentary time allows”. Private Members’ Bill introduced by Jim Fitzpatrick MP.

2015 – Fitzpatrick PMB blocked for twelfth and final time. General Election, 98% of MPs elected on manifesto commitments for wild animal circus ban. Both Conservative and Labour election manifestos have clear promises to ban wild animals in circuses. Results of 2014 Scottish consultation on use of wild animals published, 98% support a ban. Chipperfield big cat act tours Wales; circus prevented from performing in England due to animals’ inadequate living conditions. Welsh government commissions Professor Harris report ‘The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses’. Welsh Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, announces “The Welsh Government believes there is no place for the use of wild animals in circuses”.

2016 – Ten Minute Rule Motion introduced by Will Quince MP blocked. Private Members Bill by Kevin Foster MP introduced. Report commissioned by Welsh government finds, “all five of the ‘freedoms’ are compromised” and that circus life “does not appear to constitute either a ‘good life’ or a ‘life worth living’”. Scottish government announces it will introduce bill to ban in May 2017.

ADI releases investigations of winter quarters of Peter Jolly’s Circus and Thomas Chipperfield’s lion and tiger show. The images show serious overcrowding and limited access to exercise. Peter Jolly’s worker threatening and spitting at a camel.

Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs announces the Welsh government will consult “early next year” on licensing/registration for mobile animal exhibits including travelling circuses but states “I have not dismissed the possibility of a future ban on the use of wild animals in circuses”.

2017 – Over 30 countries have passed national laws or regulations banning animals in circuses (all animals, wild animals and a few prohibiting certain species). 18 EU member states have such laws including Greece, Cyprus and Malta banning all animals in circuses, and Austria, Netherlands, Croatia and Slovenia banning all wild animals in circuses.

Over 200 UK local authorities have passed ban on their land, the majority banning all animal acts with the remainder banning all wild animals in circuses. Some of these prohibitions have stood for over 30 years.


Take action!

  • Call your MP today and ask them to support the “Wild Animals in Circuses (Prohibition) Bill” which will have its Second Reading on Friday 24 February – get contact details for your MP here.

  • Ask your MP to encourage Defra Minister George Eustice MP to introduce the government bill.

  • Avoid circuses that have animal acts, and encourage your friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

  • Speak out when a circus comes to town – email ADI for leaflets and posters. We can also let local supporters know.

  • Spread public awareness by following ADI on Facebook and Twitter and sharing our action calls.

  • Donate towards ADI’s global campaign to Stop Circus Suffering.

© Animal Defenders International 2019