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Friday 26 March 2010

Black Friday for Circus

Back in the 1960s my grandfather, the great circus director and animal trainer, Dick Chipperfield, dedicated his book, "My Friends the Animals", with no little affection, to the general public. He loved the people who viewed his circus and appreciated their support, never forgetting them. Many who worked for him or grew up on his circus will testify the importance he placed on giving service to the general public and to always be friendly and helpful to them. His was a time when circuses brought whole communities together and broke class divisions. We have footage of incredile queues of people snaking their way up to the huge tents that contained his shows. And why not? Britain was the country that gave birth to the modern circus. The officials and the press of Britain today would have you believe a far different story...

Friday 27th March will probably go down in circus history as a “Black Friday” for animal circuses. Despite there only being a small number of circuses in the UK containing animals and despite a thorough scientific investigation in for the 2006 Animal Welfare Act returning the consensus that the circus “animal issue” was purely a “political” one, an apparent survey was conducted to decide whether the general public would back one of these three proposals:

  1. Business as usual for animal circuses
  2. Wild animals to be travelled in circuses only under regulation
  3. A total ban on wild animals in circuses.

Yesterday a source leaked to me that the results to be published by DEFRA today confirmed that 94% of those who took the vote backed the total ban option. The official circus governing body, the Association of Circus Proprietors were behind the regulation option from the beginning and even drew up regulations that were submitted for the working group consultation on the Animal Welfare Act.

I for one am very sceptical about the apparent 94% backing of the ban. How does this correlate with the packed houses regularly enjoyed by the few circuses that do have exotic animals in their circuses? I think it is more than likely that those voting were rallied by the various activist groups who oppose animals in circuses. Why this was recently pushed not long before election time also makes me ponder, but I won’t go into that one.

So far there have been at least two independent scientific investigations into animal husbandry in circuses. The first one was conducted in 1989 by Dr Marthe Kyle Worthington at the behest of the RSPCA and its results were published in the book “Chiron’s World?” Despite various parts of the book often being quoted out of context or misconstrued a full reading of the book shows a general positive outlook for animal circuses and their methods. The 2006 research really summed up the essence of the issue regarding animals in circuses – a political one.

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