- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2006

LONDON — Roll up, roll up, to witness the final, grim days of the tame tigers, lions and zebras that have filled circus tops in Britain for more than a century.

These trained beasts may already be small in number, but after an announcement last week that the government plans to ban the use of some wild animals in traveling circuses, they could disappear altogether.

Circus owners said that many of the 50 or so wild animals performing in Britain would have to be killed.

Martin Lacey, director of the Great British Circus, which has lions, tigers, camels and zebras, said he was “appalled” at the ban, which will apply to yet-to-be named species “whose welfare needs cannot be satisfactorily met” in a traveling circus.

“I am on my eighth generation of tigers, bred over 45 years, and I love them,” he said. “But I will have to destroy them if this ban goes through. Where will they go? Where are the tiger retirement sanctuaries? I have not heard of one.”

Moira Roberts of Bobby Roberts Super Circus, which has an elephant named Anne who is more than 50 years old, said, “We don’t want to see our elephant, or a great British tradition, die. I am convinced that she will die if she goes anywhere else, she is so old, and we know her needs and love her.

“My husband has been living and working with elephants for more than 50 years, and it will do more than break his heart if the elephant has to go. Parting with Anne will be like losing one of my children.

“We have worked so hard to ask for proper regulation of wild animals and were led to believe by the government that we could continue. All of a sudden, this is betrayal.”

A spokesman for Peter Jolly’s Circus, which has two camels, a zebra and an elephant, said it would not let them be sent to new homes as a “publicity stunt” for animal rights groups.

“We will fight to keep them all the way to Europe, we are very angry,” he said.

The ban is expected to be made law alongside the Animal Welfare Bill, which has its final reading in the House of Commons tomorrow. The ban will bring to an end a much-debated practice that began with the traveling menageries of the 19th century and led to the elephant street processions of the past century.

Don Stacey, a specialist on the history of the circus who edited an industry magazine for 40 years, said, “The first show was created in Britain with horses in 1768. Circuses were created around animals. If you get rid of animals, you are left only with a variety show. A huge piece of Britain’s entertainment history will have been ended overnight. There is no reason why animals cannot be kept safely and happily.”

Jan Creamer, chief executive of the group Animal Defenders International, said, “It is nonsense to suggest that the animals will all be shot. All the wild animals can be re-homed in sanctuaries or other more appropriate facilities, which Britain doesn’t have.”

The group estimates that there were 47 “exotic” animals used in circuses last year in Britain, down from 124 in 1997.

Malcolm Clay, secretary of the Association of Circus Proprietors, said he was “very disappointed” at the government’s decision, but he said it was “alarmist” to suggest that the animals would be destroyed.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the move should not have come as a surprise to the circus community but could not say whether the bill would protect animals from being destroyed.

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