Uncertain future of circus animals

Thomas Chipperfield ad Lion

Animal welfare is an issue of some importance. It matters more to some people than others but the elimination of cruelty and mistreatment is important. Where it lies in relation to human rights, domestic violence and cruelty to children is another matter.

But, today, this blog will concentrate purely on animal issues, especially those animals that perform in travelling circuses.

As a young boy, my dad took me to see Chipperfield’s Circus when its tour came to our town. It featured all the usual types of acts including elephants, ponies, lions, clowns and a glamorous female trapeze artist who performed on a single swing. There was no safety net and, several weeks later, she fell to her death.

In those days, no mention of cruelty reached my ears and the show was greatly enjoyed by an appreciative audience – especially the children. How attitudes have changed over the years since then. These days, the number of touring circuses has fallen dramatically and the number of acts involving performing animals even more so.

The training of wild animals to perform unnatural tricks for the entertainment of humans is now generally frowned upon. Over the years, there have been widely-held concerns and a few allegations about training methods; concerns and allegations that have been based on the use of cruel training techniques. Another area that has come under the spotlight is the facility for housing the animals while on tour.

Now, Chipperfield’s is in the news again. In the UK, the country’s last remaining lion tamer has said he’s determined to keep touring in the face of protests from animal rights campaigners and some politicians.

Thomas Chipperfield is from a family that has been running circuses for seven generations; circuses that have included lions and tigers doing tricks on command. However, this past summer, his tour of Wales has been troubled by protesters picketing the venues and, allegedly, intimidating landowners who rent property to the travelling circus. The Welsh Government has also stated that it will investigate whether or not to ban the use of wild animals in circuses.

Mr Chipperfield says his animals are well cared for – and accuses animal rights campaigners of spreading lies. He said: “The opposition to this has existed for a long time but it’s only recently that it’s gained a significant foothold because of misinformation that’s put out and so easily spread. Animal rights groups can send out propaganda to thousands of people based on dated and carefully selected footage which has no relevance to myself.”

His travelling circus, which has two lions and three tigers, passed inspections to operate in Wales but was refused a licence to operate in England this year when the Department or Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said the big cat sleeping area was too small, and recommended it to be enlarged.

In response, Mr Chipperfield has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise the cash needed to build a new enclosure ready for next season.

There are only two other circuses left in the UK that use wild animals and, in 2007, the last major report into animal welfare in the UK found little evidence that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses was any better or worse than those in zoos.

Whether you think zoos are a good idea or not is another matter but, except for dolphins and whales, they don’t generally train animals to perform. And, to me, that is the main issue. Hopefully, they are trained with kindness but being expected to perform unnatural tricks for our pleasure has to be wrong.

Circuses can continue with just human acts but, if wild animal acts are banned, what happens to the animals? To be blunt, instead of being assets, they would become costly liabilities. And, in any business, costly liabilities are axed.


Pic: SkyNewsScreenGrab  Thomas Chipperfield face-to-face with lion.

In need of love and a safe home


Like many other people who find themselves honoured in some way for their good works, Anne Owen said that being appointed an MBE in the UK’s 2015 New Year Honours was not just for her but also for her family and friends.

You often hear award recipients say that. They say it is as much for their team as themselves and, to a certain extent, it is true. There is no doubt that without close support the individuals concerned could not have achieved so much – but the award recipients are the really worthy ones.

Anne was appointed as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to animal health and welfare. anne-owen-380x502

She set up the North Clwyd Animal Rescue Centre in 1978 after she took in a stray dog. It is now the largest animal charity in North Wales (that’s in the UK, not the North Wales in Pennsylvania), rescuing more than 1,800 unwanted cats and dogs a year.

Reacting to her award, Anne said that she was really shocked and explained: “It’s not something I really think about, you just get on with life.”

Modestly, she added: “It’s nice that your work is recognised. It’s not just me, it’s my family and friends too.” True – and I’d add the animals too.

Of course, North Clwyd Animal Rescue is just one of numerous pets rescue organisations in various countries. And whether these are run by volunteers or larger charities with paid staff, volunteers are always welcome – as are people willing to give a pet a home.

I must admit to having a soft spot for the North Clwyd rescue centre as one day my then wife and I happened to meet volunteers with an exhibition stand in a local shopping centre. They also had a couple of dogs with them, dogs looking for their forever homes. Well, we fell in love with a large male border collie whose original name I now forget but we renamed him ‘Bryn’. We were even allowed to take him for a short walk. It was a match, we wanted him as much as he wanted a home and caring owners.

Of course, there was paperwork to be completed as well as a home check to be undertaken by the rescuers but within a few weeks, Bryn was with us. He was a softee and, at night, had to sleep in his basket in our bedroom. During the daytime he had a second basket downstairs but also had the freedom to run and play in our fields. He enjoyed a full and active life for many years until it was time for him to leave us. He was buried in one of our fields that he loved so much.

With Bryn as an inspiration, from that moment on our home was never without at least one rescue dog. At one time we had six.

So, if you would like a pet of your own, please don’t buy one without at least considering sharing your home with one that has needed the help of rescuers. They have a lot of love to give and in return just need your love and a forever home.

  • To contact North Clwyd Animal Rescue, you’ll find the website at: www.ncar.co.uk; on Twitter at @ncaruk; or on Facebook as NorthClwydAnimalRescue.
  • To find an animal rescue centre near you, just Google ‘animal rescue’ and your town’s name.