THE circus is coming to town, and with it comes a heated debate and protests over the use of animals as performers.

Circus Mondao will take place at Chepstow Racecourse between today and May 12.

Billed as a family circus, each show includes high-flying acrobats, motorcycle stunts and clowns.

The shows also include performances with animals, such as horses, dogs and camels – and it is this practice which proves controversial.

As reported in the Free Press in previous years,

Circus Mondao’s visits to Chepstow are regularly met by groups of protesters

, who display banners and share accounts with circus-goers of animal rights.

The Welsh Government has moved moves to end the practice of using wild animals in travelling circus shows.

The move would not apply to domesticated animals, such as dogs or horses.

Wales’ environment minister, Lesley Griffiths AM, launched a public consultation in October 2018 on the draft bill. Of more than 6,500 responses, 97 per cent of people said they would support a ban on wild animals in circuses.

When the bill was first announced last July, then-first minister Carwyn Jones said the ban could be introduced within 12 months.

Rachel, a spokeswoman for Cardiff Animal Rights – the group organising the protests in Chepstow later this week – said she hoped the ban would be successful.

Speaking to the Free Press on Tuesday, she said: “We disagree with the use of animals in any industry, and the circus is no place for animals.

“Animals are trucked around for hours on end, [and perform] with loud music, flashing lights, and screaming. It’s incredibly degrading and shows a lack of respect.”

Rachel, who did not want to give her last name, said the Cardiff Animal Rights group’s objective was to raise awareness.

“Our main aim is to speak to people [outside the circus] and encourage them not to go again,” she said. “We don’t use a megaphone or shout chants – we’re not an aggressive group.”

She added: “We want an animal-friendly world. We’re hopeful for the ban.”

Circus Mondao’s ringmistress Petra Jackson said her organisation was compliant with all the standards set out by Defra – the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

“We go above the standards – we don’t skim them,” Ms Jackson said. “Our animals are fit, happy, healthy and well.”

Ms Jackson said she believed many people had “outdated” views about how circus animals were kept. She said the dogs and horses in her shows did nothing which would be out of place at a country show, and cited a ‘90s study by animal behaviourist Martha Kylie Worthington as evidence a ban on wild animals in circuses was unnecessary.

But these arguments have not persuaded many people who believe animals and circuses are incompatible. An online petition calling for Wales to ban all animals from circuses has received hundreds of signatures, including dozens from Monmouthshire residents in the past week.

And on May 1, UK environment secretary Michael Gove announced a new bill, banning wild animals in circuses, similar to the one put forward by the Welsh Government last year.