16 October — By Tom Foot
City of London has discussed whether circuses with animals should be invited to the Heath fairground site
A CIRCUS featuring dancing horses and budgerigars is to return to Hampstead Heath, two years after it was disrupted by animal rights protesters.
Zippos Circus has announced that it will be returning to the “fairground” site in East Heath Road later this month. The City of London held discussions earlier this year as to whether circuses with animals would be welcomed back without imposing a ban.
Last year, Zippos broke a 15-year run on the Heath and the City booked the Moscow State Circus, which does not use animals, for its annual autumn extravaganza. Zippos says its latest show involves “daring equestrian acts” from master horse riders.
Animal rights campaigner Marianne Harris, who lives in South End Green, said: “From my perspective it gives children the wrong message – that animals are commodities and there for our entertainment, that they are under our control, and can be used to make money and entertainment.”
She added: “We should be putting forward a message of kindness, compassion and understanding. Animals have their own purpose in life, they are not there to be exploited. What the horses are being asked to do – people riding on their backs – is not in the nature of a horse, no matter how kind the training techniques are. If it was just acrobats and clowns at Zippos I would be encouraging people to go.”
In January, members of the Hampstead Heath Consultative Committee, a body that connects the City with users of the Heath, “were unanimous against the use of any domestic or wild animals at future circus shows at the Heath”, according to minutes of its meeting. Zippos is this year celebrating the 250-year history of its circus, which began when soldier and horseman Philip Astley set up a ring in London.
This year’s show at Hampstead is billed as a “testament to Astley’s legacy” and promises to recreate tricks first seen in the original Astley’s Amphitheatre. The “Khadikov Riders” will perform The Courier of Saint Petersburg, in which “a rider straddles two cantering horses” and a single rider is “mounted astride a whole team of horses”.
Zippos was not available for comment this week but has published an inspection report from a vet which has been approved by the City.
It says the show’s six horses are from mainland Europe and are kept in clean and well-maintained stables with fresh water and hay and enough space to lie down and sleep. “As routine the horses will work in the morning for about two hours and then will have time off in the paddock before the afternoon and evening performances,” the report added.
In 2016, the Heath Constabulary reported “periods of sustained hostility and abuse” from activists on the Heath. More than 8,500 people signed an online petition calling for performing cats and budgies to be removed from the show.
At the time the wife of Martin “Mr Zippo” Burton, Julia Knight, defended the acts, telling the New Journal the company “robustly denies” any cruelty to animals. A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation said: “The organisers maintain the highest standards of animal welfare which is independently verified by veterinary surgeons and animal health officers.”