Animal welfare activists and outraged Knysna residents have promised to put the squeeze on the municipality to prevent travelling circuses with performing animals from hosting shows there in future.
After numerous reports about years of animal cruelty in circuses, and recent protests against the circus in Jeffreys Bay, Knysna residents concerned about the ethical treatment of animals reacted with disbelief when The McLaren Circus rolled into town this week.
Along with performing lions, Bengal tigers, camels, poodles and an array of snakes, the circus moved in and began setting up its tents at the Knysna High School.
After 11th-hour talks with the municipality failed to stop the show, residents and animal welfare activists printed placards and organised a protest.
“It was amazing to see the response from the public at such short notice,” said Elaine Levitte, deputy chairwoman of the Knysna Animal Welfare Society.
“It’s a sad indictment that on the ever-increasing list of countries around the world banning animal acts in circuses, there is not a single country on the African continent that has banned performing circus animals.
“Hopefully, we have raised the awareness level to the point that our small town can set an example to the rest of the country.”
While more than 30 countries have banned animals in circuses, South Africa has yet to review its Performing Animals Protection Act of 1935 and the Animal Protection Act of 1975.
Friday night’s opening performance was poorly attended by the public, with less than 100 people there, according to reports.
Public Watch’s Dr Mandy Lombard said: “While we are bitterly disappointed that the Knysna High School and the Knysna Municipality allowed a circus with performing animals to come to town, we are cautiously optimistic of two things. One, that this event will allow us to help raise awareness about the suffering of circus animals, and two, that the Knysna municipality will honour its official statement which promises a revision of the policies and by-laws governing event approval in future.”
The chairman of the Knysna Tourism Association, Greg Vogt, who joined the picket in his personal capacity, said: “It took us all by surprise. The circus applied late last year to hold their shows, and this debate suddenly sprang up.
“By-laws need to be about public opinions and sentiments, not just about security and financial obligations. We are a progressive municipality and our mandate as the tourism association is to engage with relevant stakeholders and role-players.
“From what I can gather it appears the municipality has recognised that the current by-laws can be amended to accommodate the sentiment of the town. There is room in the by-laws and they are willing to address this in future.”
In a letter to Public Watch, the director of finance at the Knysna Municipality, Grant Easton, said the mayor “confirmed that the municipality would indeed review its by-law and the applicable policy to ensure the fullest possible relevant public/stakeholder participation in the process”.
“The by-law as it currently stands effectively only covers safety issues and not wider and potentially pertinent or public interest matters, and it is therefore lacking.
“The mayor also fully thanks and supports the endeavours of all concerned in pointing out this inherent weakness and as an administration we also fully acknowledge and support the right of the public to peacefully picket.”