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ISPCA calls for urgent introduction of wild animal welfare legislation

Following recent public debate on RTE’s Liveline regarding circus animal welfare, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is calling for the urgent introduction of legislation regarding the use and importation of wild animals in Ireland.

ISPCA Chief Inspector Conor Dowling stated ‘At present there is no legislation specific to wild animal welfare in Ireland. Irish circuses currently operate under European Communities (Circuses) Regulations 2007 regulations, but they pertain to animal transport and disease control and not welfare. A new Animal Health and Welfare Bill will hopefully be implemented in 2010 but the ISPCA believe that legislation is also required for wild and exotic animals to cover welfare and particularly private ownership, which is currently unregulated’.

The ISPCA is completely opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses as by their very nature, circuses cannot provide sufficient space and appropriate conditions to guarantee the physical and psychological well-being of their animals, especially social species like elephants. As a result many circus animals show signs of stress exhibited by abnormal or stereotypic behaviour. This, in big cats and bears, can take the form of weaving movements, walking in circles and sharp upward movements of the head.

The ISPCA believes that animal acts in circuses fulfill no useful function. They are said to provide harmless entertainment for humans, but this disregards the suffering caused to the animals involved or the likelihood of the animal having been trained by fear and coercion techniques. Circuses certainly have no educational benefit – animals are presented in an unnatural environment – and despite claims by circus proprietors to the contrary, circuses do not help the conservation of rare species in any structured or scientific way.

Circuses may also travel hundreds of miles in a year and the animals are transported in cages or beast wagons which invariably become the animals' home. The available space is often less than 2.5 square metres per lion, tiger or leopard. Within the restricted cages and other areas provided by circuses, the ISPCA believes it is impossible to give anything which even remotely provides adequate exercise and nothing which resembles the scope and complexity of a circus animal’s natural and wild surroundings.

The introduction of comprehensive legislation on wild animal welfare is long overdue. The ISPCA believes wild animals are not suited to circus entertainment and their use should be prohibited by legislation. In addition the importation and private ownership of exotic wild species should also be regulated and licensed. Wild animal welfare will not be addressed until such legislation is enacted.

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