Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Circus animal ban: Ending the use of wild animals in circuses would be an excellent step forward for Northern Ireland

' Ending the use of wild animals in circuses will be an excellent step forward for Northern Ireland'
' Ending the use of wild animals in circuses will be an excellent step forward for Northern Ireland'

The Green Party wants Northern Ireland to lead the way when it comes to protecting vulnerable animals from unnecessary suffering.

In our Assembly 2011 manifesto, we made a commitment to raise standards of animal welfare in Northern Ireland across all sectors from domestic pets, through to indigenous wildlife.

We believe that a ban on wild animals in circuses will be an excellent step forward.

Clear legislation from the Assembly is needed because although councils like Belfast and North Down don’t allow circuses with performing wild animals to use council owned land, often private land owners are happy to accommodate them for a fee.

With the best will in the world, I believe the welfare needs of wild animals cannot be met in the environment of a travelling circus. In the wild an elephant will walk several kilometres per day, while their life expectancy is significantly lower in captivity.

Circus has a long tradition but no longer should it be acceptable to haul wild animals, sometimes endangered species such as tigers, around as a form of entertainment.

The public freak show was once considered acceptable entertainment but thankfully it has been consigned to the dustbin of history as our knowledge and moral sophistication grew.

And so it should be when it comes to using wild animals for entertainment purposes.

Our understanding of animal welfare now means that we know what they need in order to thrive.

Life for circus animals often consists of being housed in trucks of a restricted size and being kept in small temporary enclosures.

Veterinary advice shows that loading and transporting can be stressful, even for experienced animals.

The Green Party is not a lone voice calling for a ban of wild animals in circuses as the majority of the public have consistently expressed a preference to end the practice.

A 2010 Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) report showed that 94 per cent of people surveyed favoured a ban, including representatives of zoo and veterinary professions.

In Northern Ireland we have the opportunity to use devolved powers to lead the way in banning wild animals in circuses and that is why we are appealing to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to make this a priority.

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