Animal welfare announcements: glass three-quarters full

Libby Anderson's avatar
Libby Anderson
11 May 2017

It has been a long time coming, but today is the day that the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill starts its progress through the Scottish Parliament. In around a year, we hope, our law will state:

“A person who is a circus operator commits an offence if the person causes or permits a wild animal to be used in a travelling circus.”
OneKind has teamed up with animal protection organisations Animal Defenders International, Born Free Foundation and the Captive Animals’ Protection Society to give the Bill a warm welcome. 

The Bill covers all non-domesticated animals travelling and performing in circuses, and any form of display or exhibition in static premises such as winter quarters. It is, of course, more limited in its scope than we would have wanted, but it is a pragmatic and enforceable approach and will finally complete some important unfinished business.

A Scottish Government consultation in 2014 produced an overwhelming response in favour of banning wild animal circuses in Scotland.  Out of 2,043 responses, 98% thought the use of wild animals for performance in travelling circuses should be banned; and 96.4% thought the use of wild animals for exhibition (without performing) in travelling circuses should be banned. Both aspects are covered in the Bill.

The most recent Scottish poll, carried out for the More for Scotland’s Animals coalition in March 2016, found that 75% of those polled supported an end to the use of wild animals in circuses, rising to 78% in the 18-24 age group.

I particularly liked a comment in the Scottish Government questions and answers document about licensing – the route taken south of the border:
“A licensing scheme (as currently exists in England) might assist in protecting the welfare of wild circus animals but would completely fail to address the ethical concerns clearly expressed in response to the Scottish Government’s 2014 consultation; only a complete ban on use could fully resolve these concerns.”

In our discussions with the Scottish Government, we have consistently raised the issue of other forms of entertainment using animals, such as reindeer displays, bird of prey exhibitions in shopping centres, and mobile zoos and animal handling parties and asked for these to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. It is good news, therefore, that the Scottish Government has committed today to address these activities and OneKind is calling for this review to progress in parallel with the circus bill.

Other commitments announced today include pledges to

  • Introduce measures to require the registration or licensing of animal shelters and rehoming activities
  • Update regulations governing the licensing of dog, cat and rabbit breeding and dealing, including the irresponsible breeding and sale of these animals
  • Modernise the legislation on performing animals other than in circuses
  • Introduce tight controls restricting the use of electronic training collars
  • Review the penalties available for animal welfare offences

Again, OneKind welcomes these commitments, although we continue to seek a straightforward ban on electronic training collars as the most effective way to end the suffering caused by these devices. 

A more bitter pill to swallow is the pending legislation permitting vets to shorten the tails of spaniels and hunt point retrievers intended for use as working dogs to reduce the number of tail injuries suffered.  Scotland led the UK by introducing a full tail-docking ban for puppies in 2007. The introduction of exemptions for working dogs was uniformly opposed by veterinary and animal welfare organisations, but has been pursued regardless.  We at OneKind have consistently said that our opposition to docking is based solely on animal welfare concerns, and we would change our position if it could offer a net benefit to for working dogs – but there is still absolutely no evidence of this.  We are confident that this point will come out strongly when the Order comes before the Scottish Parliament.

Finally, there is something missing from this list of proposals. A review of the exotic pet trade, committed to by the Scottish Government in 2015, appears to have been dropped.  Here’s what the then Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead MSP, said at the time:

“I feel that perhaps more can be done to protect not only the exotic animals that are being brought into the country, but our own native animals and environment. That is why I am publicly committing to a review of the trade and importation of exotic animals as pets in Scotland and I will be asking for the thoughts and advice of animal welfare groups, veterinary organisations and biologists across the country in due course.

“Calls have been made for new approaches to be taken at EU level and I would like to see Scotland taking the lead in supporting this.”

Well, call me naïve, but dropping the problems caused by the explosion of non-domesticated pet-keeping from the agenda does not look very like taking the lead.  Other countries including Belgium, Netherlands, Lithuania and Luxembourg have overtaken Scotland in introducing positive lists – a simple and enforceable mechanism to ensure that only animals suitable for the domestic environment are kept as pets. We will be writing to the current Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, to urge her to keep this critical animal welfare issue on the agenda.

So this is an important day for animal welfare in Scotland and OneKind hopes that it represents the start of real movement towards a comprehensive, modern suite of legislation that will be an example to other countries. Mulling over the positives and negatives, I was wondering whether the animal welfare glass was half-full or half empty. On balance, I would say it is a good three-quarters full – but we must keep an eye out for spillage.

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