by Ian Craig

GIFFORD'S Circus has defended itself against calls for a boycott by animal rights activists.

The circus, which is currently touring around the region and has just finished two-weeks on Minchinhampton common, has come under fire from the Captive Animals Protection Society, which has called for a boycott.

The charity has led calls for use of animals in live circus shows to be banned and has supported the Government's announcement of the development of a draft legislation banning the practice.

CAPS director Liz Tyson has called for a boycott of Gifford's, which she claims is one of only eight circuses in the UK which uses live animals in shows. 

"Although the ban is on its way, we remain concerned for all animals currently in circuses, whether domestic or wild," she said.

However, Gifford's artistic director Nell Gifford, who founded the circus, based in Bourton-on-the-Water, with her husband Toti in 2000, said the welfare of their animals was a top priority.

"No corners are cut," she said. "All of the animals are very well treated - they have regular visits from the vet, the chiropractor and the dentist.

"The horses are our pride and joy and we wouldnÕt ever do the circus without them."

She added a number of the animals involved in this year's performance - which includes horses, birds and dogs - had faced dire living conditions or even death before coming to the circus. 

"One of our horses was rescued from the meat trade in Belgium where it was being bred for human consumption and some of the dogs are rescue collies which were taught tricks as part of their treatment," she said.

"They travel a maximum of 40 miles once a week and when we get to the site we build up a temporary stable."

Nell said anyone concerned about the welfare of the circus animals was welcome to visit to see for themselves.

"ThereÕs no big secret and its all open to the public," she said.

"If they want to make any suggestions of how we can improve they are very welcome to. It's interesting to hear what they say and we would  be happy to engage in debate."

Nell said she felt it was difficult to take issue with the circus without making a similar case against equine events such as showjumping.