ONE of the Cotswold’s most popular attractions has defended against calls for a boycott by animal rights activists.

Giffords Circus, which is currently touring around the region and is currently in a two-week run in Minchinhampton, has come under fire from Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS), which has called for a boycott of the circus.

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 said she hoped people would stay away from Giffords and the other seven circuses across the country which use live animals, “Although the ban is on its way, we remain concerned for all animals currently in circuses, whether domestic or wild,” she said.

However, Giffords artistic director Nell Gifford, who founded the circus with her husband Toti in 2000, said the welfare of the animals is their 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 wouldn’t 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 with 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.

“On the other hand, a horse which is involved in showjumping is moving every day so you can’t make a case against circus horses without making a case against showjumping.”

However, Cirencester animal rights activist Mike Haines said he was firmly against use of animals in live circuses.

“It’s wrong,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether the animals are domesticated or not, to force an animal to perform tricks is completely wrong.

“I’m completely opposed to any kind of animal abuse, and that’s what it boils down to – animal abuse.”

Cotswold MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said the government is committed to promoting high standards of animal welfare, and this was the driving force behind the planned draft legislation.

“In the meantime, to protect animals in the interim period the Government have put forward draft regulations to introduce a licensing scheme, which will come into force from the start of the 2013 touring season,” he said.

“The Government has made its position on this matter very clear and it is up to each individual to decide whether they wish to attend the circus or not.”

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

“There’s 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’d be happy to engage in debate.”