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Should the use of wild animals in travelling circuses be banned in Scotland? Consultation analysis.

Should the use of wild animals in travelling circuses be banned in Scotland? Consultation analysis.

Friday, June 26, 2015

ISBN: 9781785443442

The Scottish Government conducted a public consultation concerning the use of wild animals in travelling circuses between January and April 2014 and obtained 2043 responses. This document is the report of the analysis of those responses.

Executive Summary

  1. The Scottish Government conducted a public consultation concerning the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in Scotland, which ran for 12 weeks between January 2014 and April 2014. The purpose of this consultation was to identify any ethical concerns the public may associate with the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, consider how any such issues identified could be resolved and, in particular, gauge public support for, or opposition to, a possible Scottish ban on the use of these animals on ethical grounds. For the purposes of this consultation, “wild animals” were defined as those not commonly domesticated in Great Britain.
  2. The issue of wild animals in travelling circuses has been a source of longstanding unease to many people. The 2007 report of the Chairman of the Defra Circus Working Group - the “Radford Report”, referred to in detail in the consultation document, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses on welfare grounds. However, the Report also noted that this did not preclude there being a welfare issue and indeed stated that the status quo was not a tenable option. This conclusion, in line with a shift in scientific and wider attitudes to animal welfare to actively seek to promote a positive life for animals in addition to preventing their suffering, has led to the consideration of alternate legal approaches regarding the use of these animals.
  3. The consultation was an open access, web-based survey consisting of 24 questions that focused specifically on 3 main areas; respect for animals, the travelling environment and ethical costs and benefits; however, questions on what possible financial impacts a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses might have on the circus industry and the wider entertainment industry were also included. Additionally, the consultation gave the public a forum to raise any further ethical points for consideration. Active promotion of the consultation was conducted via email marketing and press coverage and a total of 2043 responses were received.

    Respect for animals
  4. The vast majority of respondents believed that the exhibitions and performances required of wild animals in travelling circuses did compromise respect for the animals concerned (89.5% of respondents) and had an adverse impact on the development of respectful and responsible attitudes towards animals in children and young people (94.7% of respondents). While it was clear from respondents, comments that the concept of respect had a broad spectrum and meant different things to different people, the key messages were that forcing wild animals to perform tricks for the entertainment of the paying public was demeaning for the animals, compromised their dignity and lessened respect for them. Even if they were treated particularly well, it was considered to be inherently disrespectful in today's society to hold wild animals captive in an unnatural environment that could not cater for their complex needs. Because of the nature of circuses, 94.7% of respondents did not consider that the situation could be remedied by anything other than a complete ban on the use of these animals in travelling circuses.
  5. In direct contrast, a minority of respondents, including groups affiliated to the circus industry, were strongly opposed to a ban, being adamant that wild animals in travelling circuses enjoyed a high quality of life which, because of the close, caring bonds that developed between animal and trainer, was actually enriched by training and performance. These respondents maintained that a robust regulatory system with strict monitoring, evaluation and enforcement should be put in place and this would properly secure the welfare and dignity of the animals.

    Travelling Environment
  6. When invited to state whether the ability of wild animals to undertake natural behaviours was compromised in the travelling circus environment, the vast majority of respondents (90.8%) considered that it was. The same percentage of respondents thought that no natural behaviours could be facilitated within the travelling circus environment. Respondents regarded natural behaviours? as those behaviours that an animal would normally carry out in its wild environment so, any such behaviour that could not be undertaken in the travelling circus environment was seen as compromised.
  7. Respondents considered that long periods of confinement between performances or whilst travelling inhibited the animal's ability and freedom to carry out natural behaviours at will. These were further inhibited due to spatial constraints and lack of opportunity to interact with other animals of the same species on a regular basis. In the main, respondents believed the travelling circus to be a wholly unnatural environment for a wild animal and considered that natural behaviours, by definition, could only occur in the animal's natural habitat, which the circus could never simulate nor facilitate. Several respondents perceived the harsh training aspect of circus life to be a large factor in the compromising of natural behaviours as they considered that animals were literally being forced against their will to perform incredibly unnatural behaviours that were far removed from what they would do in the wild. Approximately 95.7% of respondents did not believe that the concerns raised surrounding the travelling environment could be resolved without banning the use of wild animals in travelling circuses.
  8. However, a small minority of respondents appeared to regard "natural behaviours" as behaviours that would occur naturally at the animal's will but were changeable depending on the animal's environment. These respondents accepted that certain behaviours, such as roaming for miles to find food, would not be possible in a travelling circus environment but viewed this as a necessary behaviour to ensure survival of the animal in the wild. They argued that such a behaviour would not be needed in the circus and maintained that, even in a wild setting, an animal would not hunt for food if it did not have to. Additionally, respondents argued that there was no conclusive evidence that travelling induced stress related behaviours and, contrary to what other respondents thought, performances and acts were based on natural behaviours of the animals so the needs of all species of animals and their natural behaviours could be catered for in the travelling circus environment.

    Ethical Costs and Benefits
  9. The vast majority of respondents did not consider that there were any benefits to be gained from having wild animals in travelling circuses (95.8% of respondents) and did not believe that there were sufficient benefits to justify the potential compromise to the wider well-being of wild animals kept in a travelling circus (93.7% of respondents). In their comments, however, respondents conceded that although they considered there were no benefits to the animals, other than that wild animals in circuses were safe from poachers, there could possibly be financial benefits for circus owners and local authorities and entertainment benefits for the paying public.

    However, they felt strongly that any such benefits were morally unjustifiable in view of the perceived harm to the animals. Respondents thought that the educational value of wild animals in circuses was low in comparison to other learning sources and that circuses were not contributing to any breeding and conservation programmes. Respondents (96.7%) thought that no actual conflict existed between compromising the well-being of wild animals and obtaining any benefit because no justifiable compromise was possible; the only possible solution was a ban.
  10. A small minority of respondents considered that the greatest benefit of having wild animals in circuses was the enjoyment it brought to people of all ages, particularly children. They also thought there was an educational benefit because it  introduced people to animals they may never otherwise get a chance to view in the flesh, and benefits in relation to animal breeding. Circuses were also considered to be a valuable resource for the supply of animals to the wider entertainment industry for use in film and television by these respondents.

    Financial Impacts of a Ban
  11. Respondents found the questions relating to the financial impacts of a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses more challenging to answer because many acknowledged that they did not know enough about the subject. Respondents' comments clearly showed that they had very different ideas about what a ban on the use of wild animals might actually mean for the travelling circuses concerned; for example, some respondents thought that circuses would give up their wild animals, become human-only circuses and continue to visit Scotland; other respondents thought they would leave their animals behind when they visited Scotland; and some respondents thought they would stop visiting Scotland altogether and only travel to countries where it was legal to use wild animals.
  12. Only 34% of respondents thought that profits for travelling circuses would increase without wild animals, primarily because they believed that people who had previously boycotted these circuses would attend when they became animal-free; 28.8% thought there would be no change or minimal change so long as circus operators took the necessary steps to safeguard their businesses; 15.6% of respondents thought there would be an immediate decrease in revenue but many considered that, if circuses were willing to adapt to human-only shows, they could eventually attract a much wider audience and profits could increase again; 19.8% of respondents were unsure if profits would increase or decrease but many thought that if the circuses concerned embraced and promoted the change they might flourish.
  13. A majority of respondents (65.8%) thought that circuses would still visit Scotland without wild animals, after they had reinvented themselves into human-only shows; some respondents even considered that circuses would do better economically without the expense of having to keep wild animals.
  14. Ultimately, however, many respondents considered that even if there was a potential decrease in revenue for circuses, this was not justification for allowing the perceived suffering of wild animals in travelling circuses to continue. In addition, respondents felt that attitudes towards these circuses were changing and, regardless of whether a ban on the use of wild animals was put in place or not, the public's raised awareness regarding animal welfare coupled with an increasing distaste for performing animal acts would result in a continuing decline in popularity and revenue for these types of travelling shows.

    Wider Industry Impacts
  15. There were mixed views regarding the impact of a ban on the wider film and television industry. The majority of respondents felt that a ban would have a positive effect across all industries, at least in ethical terms. A ban could act as a warning to other industries that might be mistreating animals and could ultimately lead to stricter controls for animal welfare monitoring; or even to fewer animals being used in these industries. The use of real animals for commercial or entertainment purposes was generally condemned, with respondents viewing substitutes such as CGI far more favourably.
  16. In contrast, a few respondents felt there would be irreparable damage to the film and TV industries by removing a ready supply of trained animals from the UK.

    Support for a Ban
  17. A total of 2003 respondents (98%) indicated that they thought the use of wild animals for performance in travelling circuses should be banned in Scotland; and 1969 respondents (96.4%) indicated that they thought the use of wild animals for exhibition (without performing) in travelling circuses should be banned in Scotland.