LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Friday, 16 December 2016

Threat of Welsh circus ban recedes

A Chipperfield tiger

There's good news for the future of circuses with animals as a statement from the Welsh government seems to suggest that a proposed ban on wild animals in the big top will now be replaced with a licensing scheme similar to the one currently in force in England.

Circus operators and fans feared the worst in 2015 when the Welsh Assembly's deputy minister for farms and food promised a ban on "ethical" grounds, stating, "The Welsh Government believes there is no place for wild animals in circuses."

Those fears seemed confirmed when Professor Stephen Harris, a long term opponent of circus animals was appointed to carry out a study of the sector and predictably delivered a report supporting a ban.

According to a new statement by Lesley Griffths, Cabinet Secretary for Environmental and Rural Affairs, however, the Assembly has decided to step back from a ban and impose a licensing scheme instead.

Griffiths states, in part:

My officials will be working on developing a new scheme such as licensing or registration, for ‘Mobile Animal Exhibits’ including circuses, which display domestic and exotic animals in Wales. We will work with key stakeholders and undertake a public consultation on this early next year
I also recently met with the UK Government’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, to discuss ‘Mobile Animal Exhibits’, wild animals in circuses and the revocation of the outdated Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925 in Wales. ‘Mobile Animal Exhibits’ from across the UK regularly travel across borders. Therefore agreement was obtained that Wales and England would, as far as possible, have a joined-up strategic approach in introducing any new scheme to ensure cross border issues are kept to a minimum.  

As always, however, the threat of a ban has not gone away completely, with Griffiths adding the following caveats:

It should be carefully noted that whilst circuses with animals will be included in the proposed licensing or registration scheme, I am aware of the ethical concerns held by members of the public regarding the use of wild animals in circuses and a specific question on this issue will be included in the consultation document.    
I have not dismissed the possibility of a future ban on the use of wild animals in circuses in Wales and have kept the window open on the possibility of still being included in any UK Government Bill brought forward on this issue. 

For more on the hundred-year history of attempts to ban circus animals from British big tops, click here.

Update January 2017: Does the changing situation in Wales reflect changing attitudes in a post-Trump, post-Brexit world? Click here for more on the political circus.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Ringling rings its first Ringmistress in 146 years

Kristen Michelle Wilson

Well, America has yet to elect its first woman to the White House, but there's a new First Lady of the circus as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus - the Greatest Show on Earth - has appointed its first female ringmaster in its 146-year history.

Announcing her appointment on ABC News, Kristen Michelle Wilson told America:

"Ever since I was a child, I have loved performing and entertaining, so, to join the 'greatest show on earth' is truly just the biggest thrill of my life. It's a bucket list-level opportunity I never even imagined.
"I definitely have a larger-than-life personality and I'm really excited about it because that's really one of the best things about being a ringmaster: You get to be yourself, but you get to be the grandest version of yourself. I get to guide audiences on this incredible journey around the world with the Circus XTREME so it is really such an excitement."

Yasmin Smart
Of course ringmistresses are nothing new in the UK, where a long line of women have been cracking the whip in the big top for years, among them Petra Jackson, who is currently keeping order on Circus Mondao, Nell Gifford who went on to open her own circus, and the renowned equestrian Yasmine Smart.

Click here to read the story of Smart's childhood in Britain's most famous circus family.

Click here to read Nell Gifford's story.

Petra Jackson
and friends
And click here for more on Petra Jackson and Circus Mondao.