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, 7 November 2014

Thomas Chipperfield big cats in Scotland

The Lions in Winter
Thomas Chipperfield and big cats
in Scotland

On the day Jim Fitzpatrick brought his Wild Animals in Circuses bill back to the Commons for a third attempt to hasten a ban, it's a shame to see the Daily Mirror latching on to a non-story of claims by animal rights campaigners Born Free that Britain's last circus big cats are suffering in their winter home.

"Prodded with sticks and caged in Misery" screams the online headline. The accompanying picture (above), meanwhile, shows Britain's last big cat trainer Thomas Chipperfield not "prodding" a lion but feeding a healthy and contented-looking animal with a titbit on the end of a stick - which, as anyone who has ever seen a circus will know, is how you reward them during training and performance.

The story centres on the fact that Chipperfield and his animals are wintering on a "desolate" farm in Scotland.

Anna Wade of Born Free apparently went along "undercover." This wouldn't have been hard. The simple fact is that news Chipperfield was staying at the farm - known at the Circus High School - spread like wildfire around the local area. Hundreds of people began turning up to take a look at the big cats and Chipperfield has a policy of simply letting in anyone anyone who comes along.

Crowds view the big cats at their
winter quarters
When I spoke to him on the phone recently, he said this was because he had nothing to hide and if people are curious about his animals he's happy to spend time showing them around and answering their questions.

The Mirror reported that the animals' living conditions had been approved by the local authority. But it's a shame they didn't go along to see for themselves and perhaps write a more positive piece about a young man trying to keep alive a vanishing tradition while opening the doors on his profession to show that nothing is amiss behind the scenes.

Anna Ward was obviously shocked by what she found, but then I doubt if she would enjoy seeing animals in a circus or zoo. She and Born Free are, of course, entitled to their opinion but the danger with this kind of reporting is that opinion can very easily be perceived by readers as fact, when it is just one view. Other views are available, but in this instance don't seem to have been sought or given.

For more on the agenda of animal rights organisations, click here.

Everyone else who went along seems to have enjoyed a chance to see - free of charge, (although donations are welcome, and why not, since big cats are expensive to keep) - some well-cared for lions and tigers.

Although the story was obviously broken in an attempt to support Jim Fitzpatrick's proposed ban, it failed to stop a second reading of his bill being blocked once again. Fitzpatrick will bring the issue before the Commons again on November 21. For more on the story, click here.

Click here to read my interview with Thomas Chipperfield in The Daily Telegraph.

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