Scotland has officially banned wild animals in traveling circuses — an historic move for non-domesticated animals — but one which still allows captivity of animals for performances taking place in a fixed location.

“This is an important act that will not only prevent travelling circuses ever showing wild animals in Scotland in the future, but will demonstrate to the wider world that we are one of the growing number of countries that no longer condones the use of wild animals in this way,” asserted Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, following the overwhelmingly celebrated vote on the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill.

A poll sampling two years ago found a mind-blowing 98 percent of respondents in favor of the ban on wild animals in circuses. Spurred on by the astonishing near-consensus, Scottish legislators introduced the groundbreaking bill in May this year — then voted unanimously for its passage on Wednesday, becoming the first in the U.K. to do so.

In fact, Cunningham emphasized, the bill’s language remains intentionally vague in defining ‘wild animals’ to afford courts broad strokes to rule in favor of protecting animals, first. Nevertheless, some politicians reserved soft criticism of the measure for its failing to address animal performances like greyhound racing which fall outside the traditional three rings.

“Today’s historic announcement means that never again will we have to see lions, tigers and elephants suffering in cramped trucks, being made to perform tricks purely for people’s entertainment,” Libby Anderson, policy adviser for animal protection charity OneKind, told the Guardian.

“Captivity is a living hell for animals such as tigers and lions, and a circus environment can’t possibly meet their complex needs,” Elisa Allen, director of P.E.T.A. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which spearheaded an information campaign in favor of the ban, declared in a statement.

“These animals are understandably frustrated, stressed and depressed from a lifetime of being denied the opportunity to do anything that’s natural and important to them, kept caged in trailers that are hauled around the country, and forced to perform confusing tricks under the big top out of some Victorian-era sense of amusement.”

“Let’s hope the progress in Holyrood serves to light a fire under the government in Westminster, which, despite years of promising to bring in a ban, continues to sit back and do nothing as England falls further and further behind the growing number of countries putting a stop to these cruel institutions.”

Although the ban on wild animals in traveling circuses is indeed the U.K.’s first, it must be noted Scotland isn’t currently hosting any such venues — and rarely, if ever, does — making the albeit ethical groundbreaker pragmatically hollow. Cunningham acknowledged the true practical application of the wild animal ban is preventive, rather than palliative; but contends the step necessary as a first.

Attention to animal suffering has mounted for years, thanks in part to several films and documentaries, with public pressure ultimately shuttering such seeming mainstays of the animal exploitation-as-entertainment industry as Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey — announcing the shutdown in January 2017, after 147 years in existence.

According to Four Paws — a U.S. animal advocacy self-described as maintaining “one goal: to help animals who have been abused for entertainment, economic, scientific or other reasons” — public sentiment has drastically soured to the use of wild and other species for entertainment, sport, and other unnatural tasks. On the topic of prohibiting wild animals to be used in circuses, the group’s website explains [emphasis added],

“A 2015 survey of over 1,000 U.S. adults showed that over two-thirds are most concerned about animals used in circuses, along with animals used in competitive animal sports, contests, and research. This concern is also supported by the recent decline in SeaWorld attendance after the release and widespread praise of the film Blackfish.

“Highly social animal species such as elephants and large carnivores like big cats are amongst the most popular species kept in circuses, whereas they also appear to be the least suitable to circuses. This has already been recognized in nearly 40 countries around the world where (some or all) wild animals have become prohibited for use in circuses. In Canada, there are local bans on the use of animals in circuses in 28 municipal jurisdictions. In the U.S., there are over 70 municipalities in at least 22 states that have full or partial bans on the use of animals in circuses. As of September 2017, several states including Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania have already introduced and are considering similar legislation. Illinois recently became the first state to ban the use of a wild animal, in this case elephants, in circuses or other traveling performances.”

Vocal criticism immediately arose following the unanimous vote in Scotland — not over its ban — but over Britain’s reluctance to lead in the arena of animal rights, and failure to follow immediately in kind.


Image: David Tadevosian/Shutterstock.