RSPCA - Ending the use of wild animals in circuses.

Ending the use of wild animals in circuses.

Banning the use of wild animals in circuses was a long-standing policy objective for the RSPCA, one on which they had campaigned for almost a decade, when we were challenged to get the issue back on the agenda following the 2017 general election.

To secure change, we built a coalition of organisations to lobby the Government and, crucially, shifted the focus of the debate from the welfare of the animals themselves to the opportunity for post-Brexit Britain to promote itself as a champion for animal welfare.

We knew that there was cross-party support for introducing a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, not least because it had been a mainstay of the manifestos of the main political parties over recent general election cycles.

However, it had never been enacted. Our research suggested that this was because it was considered a ‘small’ issue for the Government, in no small part due to the relatively small number of wild animals which were still used in circuses across the UK.

This remained a key client priority, however, not least because of what the continued use of such animals said about us as a country when so many other nations had introduced such a ban.

Shifting focus to get the Government on side

Following the 2017 general election, it was clear that the re-elected Conservative Government would increase their focus on animal welfare due to the role that issues such as fox hunting played during that campaign. The Government’s significantly reduced majority also suggested that they would be looking for popular policy announcements which would resonate with the public.

It was at this point we determined that now would be the perfect opportunity to get wild animals in circuses back on the agenda.

We worked with the RSPCA to recalibrate their messaging on this issue, aligning it with that of the Government, shifting the focus from the animals themselves (who, again, constituted a relatively small number) to Britain’s continued role as one of the few countries not to introduce a ban.

We rightly determined that this would make the issue more relatable to policymakers on both sides of the political divide.

On the one hand, this messaging focused on the importance of carving out a positive image for Britain in a post-Brexit world, particularly as a leader in animal welfare to respond to issues raised in the election campaign. On the other, it told a stark tale about the UK’s failure to introduce legislation in this area, emphasising the importance of bringing us into line with the international community.

Shifting the messaging on the issue also opened up the campaign to a much wider cohort of political stakeholders, introducing the campaign to those groups who were interested in Britain’s role in the world more broadly, in addition to those rightly focused on animal welfare.

To raise awareness of the issue, we launched a comprehensive public affairs engagement strategy, the focus of which was a live event in the House of Commons were MPs and Peers were invited to stand up for the UK’s role in promoting animal welfare.

The focus of our event was a room filled with flags of all the countries which had introduced a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. The United Kingdom was, at that point, noticeably absent, providing a powerful visual for our campaign.

Successful pledges and new Acts

We secured the cross-party support of over forty MPs and Peers who pledged to campaign for the introduction of a ban. Following this, we worked with a number of Parliamentarians to use Written Questions and other aspects of Parliamentary process to promote the need for legislation on this issue.

Ultimately, a Private Member’s Bill and, subsequently, a Government sponsored Bill were introduced to the House of Commons. The Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019 was subsequently passed into law which achieved the campaign’s aims and, importantly, brought to fruition a decade-long policy ambition for the RSPCA.