A ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses finally came into force in England on Monday, 20 January 2020.

The legislation finally passed last year after over a decade of promises from successive UK governments, as other countries overtook the UK with similar bans. The long-awaited ban was welcomed by Animal Defenders International (ADI), following 25 years of studies, investigations and campaigns exposing the suffering of animals in circuses.

Jan Creamer, President of Animal Defenders International, said: “At long last we can draw a line under this archaic industry, synonymous with suffering and abuse. Some of the worst cruelty Animal Defenders International has exposed has taken place in circuses in England – never again.”

The news has been welcomed by a number of well-known supporters who have supported ADI’s Stop Circus Suffering campaign for a number of years:

Actor Brian Blessed said: “I have long believed the circus is no place for a wild animal, supporting for many years the ADI Stop Circus Suffering campaign to banish their use to the past. And now – at last! – wild animals in circuses are banned in England. What a fantastic start to the New Year!”

Actor Joanna Lumley said: “Using wild animals in circuses is outdated and extremely cruel. While we have been aware of such inexcusable suffering for many years, it has taken a very long time for any government to act. So this is wonderful news: the terrible exploitation of wild animals has finally been banned.”

Conservationist, former MEP and author Stanley Johnson said: “After so many years of promises and delays, it is fantastic to see wild animals in circuses finally banned in England. Thank you ADI for exposing the suffering and helping to keep this issue on the political agenda. The animals finally have the protection they deserve and need.”


ADI turned the tide against circus suffering worldwide with a series of undercover investigations and campaigns. 25 years ago, the UK had one of the most powerful circus industries in the world, supplying thousands of animals to circuses worldwide. But as ADI hidden cameras captured what was going on behind the scenes, the public turned its back on this cruel multi-million-pound industry and the law has finally caught up, with bans passed in England as well as Scotland, and now progressing in Wales.

The key events in the battle to stop circus suffering in Britain:
· 1993: ADI secures the first film of the appalling conditions inside circus training quarters and animals beaten.
· 1996: 7.3 million viewers tune into BBC’s ‘Here & Now’ featuring an ADI investigation of Europe’s largest supplier of lions and tigers for circuses – Chipperfield Enterprises in Oxfordshire.
· 1998: ADI releases the findings of a two-year undercover investigation of the British and European circus industry. The harrowing footage shows animals living in horrendous conditions and enduring sustained abuse and beatings. At the time there were more than 20 circuses with over 300 animals. Nearly 100 of these were wild animals including 16 elephants, 16 tigers, 15 lions, 2 bears, a rhino and hippopotamus. Many circuses close and the number of British animal circuses halve within six months. Steve Gills, elephant keeper at Mary Chipperfield Promotions, is jailed following ADI footage of him repeatedly beating elephants.
· 1999: Mary Chipperfield (‘Queen of the British circus’) is convicted on multiple counts of cruelty after ADI filmed her beating and kicking an infant chimpanzee called Trudy. Chipperfield’s husband, zoo inspector Roger Cawley is convicted of cruelty to a young elephant called Flora.
· 2002: ADI unsuccessfully tries to have Anne the elephant removed from Bobby Roberts Circus. She is almost skeletal after the unexplained death of her two companion elephants.
· 2003: Chipperfield Enterprises, which had boasted of supplying over 2,000 lions and tigers to circuses, closes down. Mary Chipperfield Promotions also closed.
· 2006: An amendment to the Animal Welfare Act aimed at banning the use of wild animals in circuses is withdrawn, after promises in both the Commons and Lords that the Act would be used to ban animal acts.
· 2007: Perhaps the most shameful episode in political history relating to animals – the Circus Working Group report. The rules of evidence are manipulated to exclude almost all evidence of animal suffering. The highly-criticised report is inconclusive and contradictory, but used to condemn animals to years of further suffering.
· 2009: ADI cameras inside an elephant tent, record the repeated abuse of three elephants with the Great British Circus – six inspections by local authority, government and animal charity inspections, all failed to identify that the animals were constantly chained to the ground and being abused.
· 2010: 94.5% of respondents to Defra’s public consultation support a wild animal ban. A ban is again promised, but government fails to act.
· 2011: ADI exposes appalling abuse of elephant Anne, at Bobby Roberts Super Circus. Chained to the ground in a barn for over three months, elderly Anne is kicked and beaten. The Backbench MPs Committee votes unanimously to instruct the Government to pass a ban.
· 2012: ADI’s film of the abuse suffered by Anne leads to the conviction of circus owner Bobby Roberts of cruelty and failure to protect her. The coalition government announces a ban and drafts legislation the following year. It simply gathers dust. Multiple attempts to bring in a private member’s bill using the government’s own text are repeatedly blocked by a small number of MPs.
· 2016: ADI exposes how Thomas Chipperfield’s big cats live, behind the scenes at Peter Jolly’s Circus.
· 2017: Scotland bans wild animals in circuses (Ireland also passes a ban the same year).
· 2019: Parliament finally passes legislation to ban wild animals in circuses in England. A bill to ban such acts in Wales is introduced to the Assembly.

As the evidence of the suffering of animals for entertainment has grown, the industry has lost the support of an educated public, but the new legislation is an important victory, as it protects animals in the future, and provides closure on a shameful past.

ADI has offered to assist with the relocation of animals affected by the legislation – there are two circuses with wild animals which tour in England and Wales – Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus. ADI is currently working with the Government of Guatemala to enforce their recent legislation banning animal circuses. This month, 5 lions and 12 tigers rescued by ADI from circuses in Guatemala will be relocated to the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa. ADI has previously assisted with the enforcement of bans on animals in circuses in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, and the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary is home to 25 lions rescued during those missions.

To find out more and support the ADI Wildlife Sanctuary, click here.

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