The French government has passed a law enacting a gradual ban on the use of wild animals for entertainment as part of new animal welfare measures.
French parliament has voted to end the use of wild animals in live circus shows in a law passed on Thursday.
France has also banned live dolphin shows and mink farming, meaning the country’s last remaining mink producer will close.
In two years, performances that use wild animals – such as elephants, big cats, and bears – will be prohibited.
It’s not just circuses that will be expected to follow the new law. Television shows, nightclubs, and private parties will also be banned from using wild animals.
However, the government has said the rules would not apply to zoos and other permanent attractions or shows.
The new law stipulates that in seven years, owning wild animals will be completely outlawed in France.
A new era for animal welfare in France
As well as the measures protecting wild animals, the new law will raise the maximum penalty for mistreating animals to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros and will tighten restrictions on the sale of pets.
In addition, France’s three marine aquariums will no longer be able to breed or bring in new dolphins or orcas. Starting immediately, no new marine aquariums can be built on French soil.
The government is also considering creating a sanctuary for the animals currently in captivity.
France’s Ecology Minister Barbara Pompili has said that the government will offer an 8m euro package to help circuses and marine parks adapt to the new measures.
“We are asking [circuses] to reinvent themselves,” she said. “That transition will be spread over several years because it will change the lives of many people.”
Circus owners in France
The 120 circus owners in France are likely to protest the new restrictions and have warned that some animals might end up abandoned.
Honorary president of the World Circus Federation Princess Stéphanie of Monaco has shunned the decision.
“In the circus, we make people happy, we’re not hurting anyone, but we get picked on. Whereas hunting with hounds, for example, is cruel to deer, horses and dogs,” she commented.
But animal rights groups insist that captive animals suffer in the entertainment industry. According to PETA, circus animals don’t perform tricks “because they want to,” but because “they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t.”
Circuses keep animals “imprisoned in cramped, filthy cages, in which they eat, drink, sleep, defecate, and urinate—all in the same place,” PETA says.
The charity adds that animals are also subject to whippings, beatings, electric shocks, and weather extremes that don’t suit their species.
Polls have shown that a vast majority of French people support the ban on wild circus animals, and dozens of cities and towns around the country already bar these practices.
Public opinion in Europe has moved decisively against the once popular form of family entertainment following revelations about mistreatment of circus animals and campaigning from rights groups.
Several events in France in recent years have added momentum for the ban, including the death of a sickly performing bear called Mischa and the shooting of an escaped tiger in Paris.
Support for the ban
Dr Chris Draper, Born Free’s Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity, said: “While long-overdue, this is a great step forward.
“Not only will France – one of the last EU Member States with a large animal circus industry – phase-out wild animal acts from circuses, but also it will take a stand against the keeping of whales, dolphins (including orca) and porpoises in captivity.
“However, it is now vital that these decisions are put into practice as soon as is viable, and that steps are taken promptly to strategically and humanely phase out these forms of wild animal exploitation.
“We are calling on the government in France, among other things, to provide a detailed timetable for their proposals, and to ensure that all wild animal species are included, that wild animal acts are not simply exported to other countries, and that the ban includes foreign circuses from performing in France with wild animals.
“Born Free is proud to have taken an active role with our partners in France to effect this change, and we thank all our supporters for standing up for the animals.”
The move has been celebrated by activists, but some argue that there is still more work to be done.
For instance, the new legislation does not protect the birds used to produce foie gras, or the livestock raised for meat and dairy.
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