Scotland bans wild animals in circuses

Scotland has become the first country in the UK to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. Between January and April 2014, the Scottish Government ran a public consultation on whether the use of wild animals in travelling circuses should be banned in Scotland. 95.8% of respondents were of the view that there are no benefits to having wild animals in travelling circuses.

The First Minister announced in September 2016 that a Bill to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in Scotland would be included in the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government for 2016/17. The Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill was debated in the Scottish Parliament on 5 October 2017 and was unanimously passed at Stage 1. The bill was approved and voted into Scottish law on 20th December 2017.

The bill was proposed by Scotland’s environment secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, who said: “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.”

Cunningham explained during the Holyrood debate that the definition of what constitutes a wild animal for the purposes of the ban had been left deliberately general to allow courts to give animals as broad a protection as possible when applying the law.

Some MSPs, however, said the bill did not address all animal performances, such as greyhound racing or bird of prey displays. Mark Ruskell, the environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, who first proposed a ban on wild animals in circuses to Holyrood more than a decade ago, said: “I’m delighted that Holyrood has finally approved a bill to ban this abuse, joining dozens of other countries around the world. The Scottish government must now look at banning the use of wild animals in static circuses and further regulation of performances where the welfare of animals may be compromised.” Libby Anderson, a policy adviser for the animal protection charity OneKind, said: “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.”

What about England, Wales and Northern Ireland?


England has had a draft bill in place since 2013 for implementation by December 2015. The then Prime minister, David Cameron is on record a number of times stating his intention to ‘Ban the use of wild animals in circuses. 

Jim Fitzpatrick, MP introduced a private members bill under the ten-minute rule. The Fitzpatrick bill was talked out on 12 separate occasions by three MP’s Andrew Rosindell (Conservative Romford), who said ‘Circuses are a great British institution that deserves to be defended against propaganda and exaggeration” Philip Davies, (Conservative Shipley) known as the Master of Filibuster and the most ‘rebellious’ serving MP, who voted against the whip over 250 times, talked the bill down on a matter of principal, that ten minute bills are a very unsatisfactory way to pass legislation, and, Sir Christopher Chope (Conservative Christchurch) who raised a ‘point of order’ as he believed that the EU costs and benefits bill should have been raised by the clerk before the circuses bill.

In the 2015 General Election, both Conservative and Labour MP manifesto’s carried clear statements about banning the use of wild animals in circuses. 

In early 2018, Michael Gove, Environment Secretary announced his intention to pass the legislation in 2018 that will ban wild animals from circuses in England, following a consultation.

94.5% of the British public are against the use of animals in circuses. Over 200 local authorities in England have a ban in place on circuses with animals, over two-thirds of all performing animals, the rest specify wild animals.


Lesley Griffiths AM, Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs. announced the findings of the public consultation on the introduction of a licensing or registration scheme for Mobile Animal Exhibits (MAEs) in Wales would be published in January 2018, confirming that almost 1,000 responses had been received, with most specifically responding to the question on banning wild animals in circuses, indicating “the strong public feeling on this matter”.

Having considered responses to the consultation and the demand for change to the current system, I have tasked officials with the development of a licensing scheme for MAEs. This will not be done in isolation and will require engagement with stakeholders and enforcement agencies, as well as collaborative working with our counterparts in the other Administrations. This approach will deliver a scheme to have a lasting impact on welfare standards, in keeping with the Welsh Government’s priority of promoting and improving animal health and welfare standards in Wales. Ms Griffiths did not rule out an outright ban on wild animals in circuses.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has not yet made any firm commitment with regard to the use of wild animals in circuses. Northern Irish MLAs have stated that they were keen to take a joined-up approach with the Republic of Ireland. In November 2017, the Republic of Ireland made the announcement that it would be introducing a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses in January 2018, thus giving us hope that Northern Ireland would follow suit.

Unfortunately, following a change in Government in May 2016, and significant political unrest since that time, the current lack of a properly functioning Parliament in Northern Ireland means that how or when action might be taken remains unclear.

The following countries have already banned the use of wild animals in circuses.


Austria, Belgium,  Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Macedonia, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Scotland, Serbia, Sweden and Slovakia.


Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Singapore, and Taiwan.