That’s the opinion of a circus industry angered at the appointment of Professor Stephen Harris, a long term opponent of circuses with animals, to head an “independent review” of whether they should be banned in Wales.
As one insider told me, “A travesty of law-making is about to take place.”
Harris was commissioned to carry out a review of animal welfare in circuses by the Welsh Assembly’s deputy minister for farms and food, Rebecca Evans who announced in December, “The Welsh Government believes there is no place for the use of wild animals in circuses.”
His report is expected to be completed by the end of February, but many in the circus believe his bias will make his findings a foregone conclusion.
In December, Harris was discredited as an expert witness in a fox hunting trial because of his links to the animal rights group, League Against Cruel Sport. His opposition to wild animals in the big top, however, has never been hidden.
In an interview with the Mail on Sunday in 2008, Harris said, ‘Every intelligent person knows that circuses are cruel. They should not be allowed to use wild animals.’
In 2011, he told the Daily Mail, ‘You can’t control big wild animals without the use of force, and that means regularly beating the living daylights out of them. It’s as simple as that. For this reason, and for many others, wild animals should not be allowed in circuses.’
Harris previously published a study on the Welfare of Wild Animals in Circuses. His findings were entirely negative, but his methodology was fundamentally flawed. Rather than carrying out any original research of his own, he relied on existing studies of animals in captivity from around the world, most of which had no relevance to animals in the very specific circumstances of life in the circus, and particularly circuses in Britain.
At one point, for example, he notes that there were no scientific studies on stress levels of circus animals during transportation. Instead of taking the opportunity to conduct a study of his own, he relies on a study of cortisol (the stress hormone) levels of zoo tigers during transport - ignoring that fact that zoo tigers would never become acclimatised to transport in the way that circus tigers are.
There has, however, since been a cortisol test on the lions of Martin Lacey Jr, during a 800 km trip across Europe that showed the animals suffered no stress whatsoever. What’s more, the lions were so comfortable with their trainer that he was able to take saliva swabs from the animals’ mouths with his fingers - something that would be impossible with zoo tigers, which would generally have to be anaesthetised before being handled so intimately. The test can be viewed on YouTube here.
It appears Harris will take the same approach with his current report as he did with his last, drawing on previous studies from around the world rather than visiting actual UK circuses and inspecting the animals and their living conditions for himself, as he has so far made no approaches to the UK’s wild animal trainers .
There have previously been only two comprehensive studies of circus animals in the UK.
You can read it here.
The Radford Report, commissioned by the last Labour government, similarly found no welfare reasons to ban circus animals. Read it here.
It would be nice to think Harris’ report might highlight the findings of those two studies.
Unfortunately, this is what Harris told the Daily Mail about the Radford Report at the time: “The whole review process was dishonest and a waste of time. It’s cruel to train animals to do tricks, keep them in tiny cages, truck them around the country and prevent them from expressing their natural behaviour. It’s farcical to claim otherwise.”
It seems Harris was angered at having his own contribution to the Radford enquiry ignored. Who could blame the circus industry for fearing that his current review will be an opportunity for him to finally bring forward the ban he has always wanted?
Update 10 February: Meanwhile in Westminster... Chirstopher Chope brings hope that government is changing its mind about a ban. Click here for latest.
Update January 2017: Although the Harris report supports a ban, the Welsh government appears to be moving towards a licensing scheme similar to that in England, although this will be subject to a public consultation in the coming year. Read more on this story here.
Does the news from Wales reflect changing attitudes in a post-Trump, post-Brexit world? Click here for more on the political circus.
Click here to read the 100-year history of attempts to ban animals from entertainment.
And click here for 10 Facts the Welsh Assembly Needs to Know About Circus Animals.