Yesterday, the conference “Use of Wild Animals in Circuses: Time for a Change” co-hosted at the European Parliament by Marlène Mizzi MEP (Malta, S&D), the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, and Eurogroup for Animals, sent a clear message to the EU: the public support for using wild animals in circus shows is long gone and the European Commission must act to ban this outmoded and unethical entertainment across all Member States without exception.
The European widespread public outcry about the use of animals in circuses’ performances highlights the need for introducing a European ban. More than half of the EU states have already adopted national legislations aimed at banning wild animals in circuses along with more than 50 States in the world.
At the conference, Marlène Mizzi MEP (S&D) shared why her country, Malta, in 2014 adopted a total ban on the use of animals in circuses. She explained, “Malta adopted this ban as our government recognizes that circuses do not, by any means, provide a suitable environment for animals to express normal behavioural patterns, nor provide suitable shelter or protecting from pain and suffering. However, currently, Member States that have adopted the ban of wild animals in circuses are still compelled to accept having these animals moved through their territory. Furthermore, circuses are now travelling even longer distances to reach the sites where they are authorized to perform, making animals spend even more time in trucks and having their welfare seriously compromised. This is why we need an EU-wide ban”.
Michel Vandenbosch, President of the Belgian organization Global Action in the Interest of Animals (GAIA), explained to the conference’s attendees how Belgium decided to address the issue. At first (in 2005) it was not through a total ban, but instead by adopting legal provisions that required circuses to adhere to the same standards of animal keeping and management, as zoos. However, after these standards were adopted Belgian veterinary officers discovered the implementation of holding effective inspections of circus animals was impossible. Consequently, they made the call for a total prohibition on keeping wild animals in circuses. In 2013, the ban was adopted. It came into force in 2014, and as Mr Vandenbosch stated, “Belgium recognized this was the only way to ensure the respect of the circus animals’ welfare”.
The Censis Foundation presented their recent report commissioned by the Italian NGO LAV, in support of a proposed Bill that would gradually dispel of animals in circuses in Italy. Gaia Angelini, Head of the Wild Animals Department at LAV, together with the Censis researcher, Sergio Vistarini and analyst, Cristiano Turchetti, explained the aim of the report is to shed some light on the socio-economic impacts the proposed ban would have and how it would influence circuses as well as the state. “For the first time in 50 years the Italian government has proposed a legislative reform of the Circus Law introducing a progressive phase out of the keeping of animals in circuses” Ms Angelini stated. “We expect the proposal to be adopted by the Parliament by end 2017.This move complies with international developments and the rise of contemporary circus which does not use animals”. The Censis report highlights that by ending use of animals in circuses, the costs of sanitary inspections and of animals’ daily maintenance would stop, thus providing more capital to be invested into human resources, training, equipment and stage sets for more innovative performances.
Ms Gloria Lorenzo Lerones, from the Directorate General of Culture and Creativity in the European Commission presented the Commission’s Creative Europe programme aimed to enable the cultural and creative sectors to better reach their economic potential without the use of animals, providing interesting opportunities for contemporary circus art.
The Circostrada Network, a contemporary circus network of 84 members from 25 countries in the circus industry, was represented at the conference by its Network Coordinator, Stéphane Seguro-Aguilar. He explained how the Network is working to create a sustainable future for circus and street arts by empowering cultural players with new types of resources and act material.
To further address how circuses must adapt themselves to face current challenges and opportunities at EU level, István Ujhelyi MEP (Hungary, S&D), explained in a video-message the idea he’s bringing forward for a system to guide circus communities on how to award best practices in circus entertainment.
In 2015, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) published a position paper on the use of animals in travelling circuses stating the needs of non-domesticated, wild mammals cannot be met within a travelling circus. Nancy De Briyne, FVE Deputy Executive Director, says “wild animals have very specific needs given that their genetic makeup is the same as their counterparts in the wild and they have the same natural instinctive behaviours and needs. As such, FVE recommends European and National authorities to prohibit the use of wild mammals in travelling circuses”.
In addition to showing how animal welfare is missing in circuses, Ilaria Di Silvestre, Wildlife Programme Leader for Eurogroup for Animals, shared another important reason to ban wild animals for circuses: to improve public security and safety. In her presentation she explained “wild animals can be unpredictable and particularly aggressive to humans when they feel threatened or forced to endure unnatural acts. The constant moving, caging, and training of animals in traveling circuses and then their forced exposure to entertain the public means that these shows can entirely be safe for the audience. Eurogroup for Animals has been collecting data on circus accidents that have happened in Europe in the last 20 years and the numbers are striking. A high number of animals have escaped from their enclosures and posed a serious threat on city streets, on some occasions even provoking severe human injuries and deaths.” Mrs Di Silvestre concluded: “As ensuring safety and security of European citizens falls under the responsibilities established by the EU treaties, a ban on animals in circuses at EU level is perfectly legitimate.”
Marlène Mizzi MEP closed the event by calling on Member States and EU Institutions to adopt a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. She said “let’s show to our children and grandchildren that these magnificent animals don’t deserve humiliation and captivity, but respect and dignity”. Meanwhile, Eurogroup for Animals will be continuing its work to support the ban of animals in the entire EU.
Ilaria di Silvestre, Wildlife Programme Leader – Eurogroup for Animals