News that wild animal circuses are to be banned in England within two years has been welcomed by legendary English actors Brian Blessed and Joanna Lumley, long-standing supporters of Animal Defenders International (ADI) and its campaign to stop circus suffering.

Brian Blessed said: “Having worked with ADI on this issue for many years, I am absolutely delighted that a wild animal circus ban is in sight. It cannot come soon enough for the animals, who must endure an utterly unnatural and miserable life in the circus.”

Joanna Lumley said: “Forced to perform, caged and confined, it is haunting and horrifying to see animals being used in circuses and I’m thrilled that action will finally be taken. We must end these pitiful acts across the UK; so please join me in backing ADI’s campaign to stop circus suffering today.”

Jan Creamer, President of Animal Defenders International said: "Circuses cannot meet the needs of animals in small, mobile accommodation and Animal Defenders International has repeatedly documented suffering and abuse. We congratulate the UK Government on making the right decision, after a decade of promises, and we urge Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit. "

The announcement by the UK Government was made in a ‘Post Implementation Review’ of the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012, introduced as an interim measure ahead of a ban. Opposed by ADI and other animal protection groups, due to the nature of the travelling circus, a system of licensing and inspection cannot improve the environment enough to ensure animal welfare; additionally, investigations show trained inspectors are unlikely to detect husbandry problems or physical abuse.

The Defra review states “The current Regulations expire on 19 January 2020. The Government does not intend to renew the Regulations as it intends to ensure that a legislative ban is introduced by then. The Regulations will then be allowed to expire”.

A ban on wild animal circuses was first promised under a Labour Government during the passage of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Following the shocking abuse of three elephants at the Great British Circus in 2009, exposed by ADI, a public consultation on the issue was launched by Defra. The results published in 2010 showed 94.5% supported a ban on wild animal acts and resulted in a commitment from the Labour Government, before the General Election resulted in a Coalition Government.

In 2011, ADI exposed the terrible abuse of Anne the elephant at Bobby Roberts Super Circus, Brian Blessed joining ADI and MPs outside 10 Downing Street to urge Prime Minister David Cameron to ban wild animal acts. The shocking footage led to backbench MPs demanding a ban, and a cruelty conviction for circus owner Bobby Roberts. At the time Brian said: “It is unbelievable that wild animal circuses still exist in the UK and now is the time for the government to legislate and put a stop, once and for all, to the draconian and humiliating spectacle of wild animals in circuses.”

With a commitment from the Coalition Government in 2012, legislation to ban wild animals in circuses in England was drafted the following year. However despite stating it would be a “leading protector of animals”, the Government bill simply gathered dust. Forty three countries have stepped up to stop circus suffering to date, with 27 of the bans – including in Scotland and Ireland – introduced since the bill was published. Repeated efforts by backbench MPs to bring in a ban through Private Member’s Bills, supported by ADI, have been thwarted by just a few MPs; the latest from Conservative MP Trudy Harrison to be introduced on 6 March.

In 2016, ADI revealed the miserable lives of Thomas Chipperfield’s lions and tigers, caged on the back of a truck and shut behind metal shutters at night and with restricted access to an outdoor exercise during the day. ADI also revealed suffering the same year at the winter quarters of Peter Jolly’s Circus. Appalling overcrowding, fighting between animals, a worker tormenting a camel, animals kept inside for days on end, and failure to comply with government regulations were documented.

Given the constant travel and their temporary nature, circuses cannot provide animals with adequate facilities to keep them physically or psychologically healthy. Welfare is always compromised.

Awareness of the inherent suffering of animals in circuses has seen the number of such acts in Britain plummet. Only two circuses perform in England with wild animals, Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus.

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