Animal Cruelty Motion 24/9/2012

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Thank you Mr Principal Deputy Speaker

I support the motion.  In doing so, I commend the work of the PSNI and the USPCA in tackling animal cruelty.  Many cases have been and highlighted, not least that which my colleague has just referred to. 

There have been issues of badger-baiting and dogfighting, and the trading of endangered species for huge amounts of money.   Minister, I would also like to raise a matter on which the legislation is weak and, in fact, does not cover. 

It is in the area of what is described as entertainment.  I am referring to travelling circuses or menageries, where wild animal training continues.  Those belong in the days of bear-baiting and dogfighting, which were also once described as entertainment.  Proud and beautiful wild animals are kept in small cages and are trained to entertain the public. 

I pay tribute to Belfast City Council, which recognised animal circuses as being a cruel form of entertainment.  Belfast City Council has banned animal circuses or circuses that have wild animals from its property. 

My colleague Paul Givan indicated that he wanted to go further, and we do need to go further, Minister, than the provisions of the existing legislation.

A circus is a commercial business that trains wild animals to carry out tricks.  Those tricks are not natural to the animals, but they require many hours of degrading and routine practice, which is usually carried out under the control of a whip-carrying animal trainer.  Over recent years, there have been many revelations about circuses and the ill treatment that is required to force those animals to perform for the paying public.  Those proud, mighty and magnificent animals do not easily take to riding on each other's backs, to jumping through hoops or to carrying out tricks that are unnatural to them but which the paying public find entertaining.  

I particularly refer to those animals that are part of the touring menageries and circuses, which spend a considerable length of time on the road, moving from location to location.  The animals are caged in what are referred to as "beast wagons", which seems an appropriate title.  The animals are confined for hours with little exercise.  It is impossible for a travelling menagerie to give those huge animals the exercise, relaxation and amenities that they require.  

I pay tribute to 'The Sunday Times' for an investigation that it carried out with the USPCA a number of months ago into the trading of endangered animals.  Species are being traded, not just in the UK but in Northern Ireland, for huge amounts of money.  That is inexplicable to me:  I cannot understand how anyone who is supposed to be an animal lover would want to buy endangered species and keep them in an unnatural habitat.  The level of animal cruelty in that sense is beyond comprehension.

The latest revelations about wild animal trading or endangered species trading show the heartless cruelty effected by the human beings who are supposed to be animal lovers but move the species from place to place and in a manner that is totally unnatural and cruel. 

The scale of that and the huge amounts of money that the animals are being traded for are shocking.  The penalties, Minister, do not deter those who are prepared to engage in this activity.   They see it only, and it can only be seen, as cruelty to those animals. 

I support the motion.