Families heading to a circus visiting town were subjected to a torrent of abuse from animal rights protestors, the ringmistress has claimed.
Petra Jackson said out-of-town campaigners ‘looking for a fight’ shouted insults to people arriving to see Circus Mondao at its site in Norcross on Wednesday.
“It was disgusting what they were saying,” she said. “We had complaints, with people asking if we could move them on.”
The travelling circus has faced criticism for its use of live animals acts, with one group calling on a boycott – though Petra has strongly defended the treatment of her ‘pets’.
Petra, who spoke to police ahead of expected protests, said a ‘bunch’ of people stood in Norcross Lane on Tuesday evening, handing out leaflets to customers and waving banners.
But while she said they were ‘no problem at all’, she said the protestors the next night were ‘vile’.
After inviting The Gazette to see for itself how the animals are kept, Petra admitted comments accusing the animals of being improperly cared for are ‘very upsetting’.
“Our animals are not mistreated but constantly we are having to justify ourselves,” she added.
“We get lots of customers coming to use who love to see the animals.”
The travelling circus, in town until September 3, has horses, pigeons, a camel, zebra, and two reindeer. It is one of just two in the UK still using animals, though the days of bears walking across tightropes and tigers leaping through fiery hoops are firmly in the past.
Circus Mondao insists its animals are free to graze wherever possible, and the ‘last to be loaded and first to be unloaded at the next site’, while their stables take priority and are put up first.
The animals are also given water, hay nets, and new beds, it said on its website.
But the Animals Defenders International (ADI)’s president Jan Creamer has repeatedly claimed: “Circuses simply cannot meet the needs of animals in small, mobile accommodation.”
It said the ‘constant travel’ and ‘temporary’ nature of circuses mean animals cannot be kept ‘physically or psychologically healthy’, and claimed ‘welfare is always compromised’ as a result.
And it branded the use of animals ‘an outdated practice which is overwhelmingly opposed by the public and animal experts’.
The government revealed plans to ban wild animals in circuses in 2012, but has never followed through.
The RSPCA, which campaigned for the ban and described the lack of action as ‘unacceptable’, said: “Regular transport, cramped and bare temporary housing, forced training and performance, loud noises and crowds of people are often unavoidable realities for the animals.”
And a report carried out on behalf of the Welsh government added: “There is considerable debate about the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses, and views are polarised as to whether the specific conditions provided by circuses and other travelling shows that use wild animals can meet the welfare needs of wild animals.”
It said travelling circuses generally have ‘much smaller and less complex’ enclosures than static circuses.
It added:” Limitations of space and facilities mean the animals are often kept in inappropriate social conditions, such as isolation of social species, grouping of solitary species, and/or proximity of incompatible species.”
Dozens of messages supporting the circus were left under a Facebook Live video showing how the animals are kept.
User Jo Cunningham said: “We live in Bispham and always come every year to see the circus. I think your animals are beautiful and obviously very well looked after.”
And Linda Rowe said she was invited to see the animals after a show last year: “They were in first class pens with plenty [of] room to move around.”