Outraged animal-lovers have issued threats and torn down posters after the only two circuses in the UK with ‘wild’ animals pitched-up near Chester.
Peter Jolly’s Circus arrived in Helsby, bringing lions, tigers, zebras, snakes and camels into the village, as performers prepared to put on a show this week.
Tensions ran high with animal rights campaigners urging Chester residents to boycott and protests being organised, as Circus Mondao, with its ‘wild’ horse show, also arrived in Broughton.
Protesters tore down posters, made threats on social media and organised a peaceful protest for the opening night as the big top was hoisted at Helsby Community Sports Club.
One man, believed to be from the Helsby area, was arrested for inciting others to commit criminal damage, after posting messages on the village Facebook group on Tuesday night. A second man is helping police with their inquiries.
Parents took to social media to slate an unnamed primary school after children came home with promotional leaflets for the circus with discount vouchers inside.
Pressure group Animal Defenders International (ADI) urged animal-lovers across the Chester area to boycott the circuses, which are the only two remaining in the UK which still use ‘wild’ animals.
But police warned campaigners to be ‘peaceful’ and ‘think about their actions’ before heading down to protest at the sites, with police saying they had plans in place in case of trouble.
In Helsby, circus performers called police after posters across the village were torn down and they received threatening phone calls warning them to stay away from local businesses.
Three clowns, in full make-up, headed into the village, handing out leaflets and discount vouchers in a bid to show they were still open, after rumours spread the shows had been cancelled.
Helsby resident Elizabeth Barendt, who planned to attend the protest outside Peter Jolly’s, said she was ‘shocked’ and ‘appalled’ that they had brought tigers and lions into the village.
“The thought that this is happening in Helsby is so upsetting,” she said.
“They are wild beautiful animals and we are allowing young people to see them in this way.
“I just want people to think twice before they go. It is Victorian. It might be jolly for Peter, but it’s not jolly for anyone else.”
Anthony Beckwith, of Peter Jolly’s Circus, said they were used to dealing with hate mail and that many of the performers and their children had received death threats over the years.
“People want to come and see a traditional circus. We don’t have animals from the wild, they are all bred within the industry; our lions are British born from several generations,” said Anthony, who has been with the circus looking after animals for 13 years.
Anthony explained that they were now inspected by Defra seven times a year under new licensing rules, that every thing they did had to be documented, and that sometimes the inspectors turned up unannounced.
“We welcome the inspections. Now we’ve been given a massive amount of credibility, before it was our word against theirs, now people can see for themselves.”
A spokesman for Circus Mondao said most people who saw the animals ,that are bred in captivity, said they were kept ‘brilliantly’.
But president of ADI, Jan Creamer, said: “Many people contact ADI and say they went to the circus not realising they would be watching miserable animals.
“After their experience they say they will not be going again. Others believe the Government has already banned animal acts but until the Government actually does this, it is up to local residents to vote with their feet.
“We want to forewarn people. If the circus has animals – don’t go. Wait and have a day out when the human-only circus comes around.”