Will Quince is Member of Parliament for Colchester.
The Conservative Manifesto on which I was proud to stand at the 2015 General Election clearly states: “We will ban wild animals in circuses”.
The Labour Party Manifesto committed to “ban wild animals in circuses”. The Democratic Unionist Party’s policy is now to support a ban on wild animals in circuses. The SNP’s Westminster Manifesto promised to consult on wild animals in travelling circuses, with many SNP MPs and MSPs now calling for a complete ban. It’s one of those rare moments we appear to have a degree of consensus among all parties.
It’s why I hope there will be widespread support for my Private Members Bill tomorrow to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses.
Why? Firstly, there’s the practical element. In the past two centuries, wild animals were an essential part of the circus experience. The definition of a wild animal is a member of a species that is not normally domesticated in Great Britain. For many people, particularly those who could not afford foreign holidays, circuses were the only opportunity people had to see these wild and exotic animals.
We know that is not now the case. Thanks to the huge growth in foreign travel, many more people can travel across the world to see these animals in their natural habitats. Extraordinary wildlife documentaries mean we can also see these wild animals in High Definition from the comfort of our homes.
We are also very fortunate in this country to have many world class zoos. Colchester Zoo is one such example. There you can see elephants, tigers, penguins, lions, bears and chimpanzees, amongst other wild animals. Our zoos do fantastic work caring for the animals and providing them with different types of enrichment in order to occupy their time and promote natural behaviours. Crucially, zoos aim to ensure that the conditions in which wild animals are kept are as close to their natural habitats as possible.
The second objection is to do with our basic respect for wild animals. Wild animals that have been used and kept in travelling circuses have the same genetic make-up as their counterparts in zoos or in the wild. Their instinctive behaviours remain. Using such animals to perform tricks and stunts hardly encourages people to respect the animals’ innate wild nature and value. Neither is there any educational, conservational nor research benefit from using the animals solely or primarily for such entertainment and spectacle.
Defra’s circus licensing scheme already requires that all licensed animals must have retirement plans in place. It’s also important we give those circuses affected appropriate time to prepare and adapt to any ban. But, like the vast majority of the public, I really believe we should follow countries like Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands in prohibiting wild animals in circuses.
Wild animals were once an integral part of the circus experience. This is no longer the case. The use of wild animals in travelling circuses can no longer be justified.