Roll up, roll up, place your vote to ban wild animal circuses

Posted on June 23, 2011

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Campaigners are hoping that wild animals circuses will be a thing of the past

The idea of a circus leaves me cold for two reasons. The first is a very personal experience and the second, is due to my role as someone who is beginning to appreciate the value and importance of conservation and wildlife.

My experience sadly wasn’t a private memory, nope, in true reporter style it was watched by six million people on national television. It’s four hours of my life where I couldn’t quite fathom how I went from being a national newsreader to Bridget Jones in the crack of a whip. But it happened and now with some hindsight, I can laugh about it.

I’d just been made redundant and yes the panic was beginning to set in whether I’d get any work. To my relief I was snapped up by a news organisation to join their senior correspondent team. The news editor at the time, told me he wanted me to bring some “glamour” to the programme, as he had his conservative news reporters. I thought he meant a bright smile – you know – lots of bubbly personality and to look sharp on-screen, so I eagerly accepted. That wasn’t what he had in mind at all.

My first live reporting assignment, two days into the job, was on the tightening of EU immigration laws to stop the influx of foreign workers coming into the UK. So far so good. A serious story I thought. The news editor had other ideas. In the morning meeting it was decided to look at an alternative industry that relies on foreign workers. You got it – a circus! I’m pleased to say I was not sent to a wild animal circus.

However after hauling my butt out of bed at 3am to drive down to Kent for a 5am start, on the coldest and wettest day in March, I was told en route I MUST “look the part” no excuses.

On my arrival I was ordered to squeeze into a full-length burgundy-coloured leotard that belonged to a gymnast half my height and a quarter of my weight, and forced to walk across a tight-rope, two-feet off the ground, supported by two fully made-up clowns. You couldn’t make it up!

At the end of the line, (thankfully it was after that live!!) I interviewed the Ring Master who dismounted from his mono-cycle, with a 16-year-old Bulgarian juggler throwing ten pin bowling pins in the air behind us. NEVER EVER AGAIN. That was the shortest contract I ever worked – 4 days.

My experience aside I am pleased to hear that MPs have backed a ban of wild animals in UK circuses. After an extraordinary debate in the Commons today, Tory politician Mark Pritchard, led the backbench call for an end to the practice. Intriguingly he also claimed he’d been threatened by the Prime Minister’s office unless he backed down.

Pritchard said the current regime — in which the government licenses circuses — was of a piece with outlawed practices such as dog-fighting and badger-baiting. Public opinion has also shown support for a ban of wild animal circuses after the recent media coverage of the abuse suffered by Anne the elephant in Northamptonshire.

Lusha the ape in her stage act for a Moscow circus.

Wild animals circus often have primates (apes, especially abroad); lions; tigers and elephants, all are subjected to a life of misery and training. These are not domesticated species and they have every right to be in their natural habitat, not to work to earn their keepers a quick buck, for cheap thrills.

The environment secretary, Caroline Spelman and the agriculture minister Jim Paice have argued that European legislation means the rights of circus owners are being infringed if they are banned from keeping wild animals.

Today’s decision, will not bind the government to any change in the law, but it will come as an embarrassment to ministers who maintain there are legal obstacles to a full ban.

MPs decided without a vote to direct the government to introduce a ban from July next year, here’s hoping it’s not just another big act.

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