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White lions, West Midland Safari Park and the Kinoshita Circus in Japan

We will all have noticed a growing trend among those vociferously denying wrongdoing. The formula followed by people like Rupert and James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, the previous Director General of the BBC and many CEOs of major banks is a simple and seemingly effective one – deny all knowledge and pass blame. It works for a time, and meanwhile the storm could just blow over given the fickle interest of a general public perhaps more riveted by jungle trials of pseudo celebrities, the peccadillos of a former director of the CIA, floods in the UK  and who will make it through the next round of the X-factor.

In keeping with the denial formula, the Head Keeper of West Midland Safari Park told the Worcester News, a local newspaper, that “he would never have supplied the four white lion cubs if he had known they would have ended up performing in a Japanese circus”. Mr Bob Lawrence went on to say that “We knew it [Amazing Animals, a company to which the lions were sold] was a collection which were used for film work, but that was the extent of it. We had no idea they would be used in a circus. But we are quite shocked by the claims, if they are indeed our lions.”   

Interesting – Lawrence does not deny selling his white lions to an organization involved in the entertainment industry and with a long history of association with the Kinoshita Circus, but then claims complete innocence to the point where he actually questions if the lions sent to Japan were indeed the WMSP lions he sold.

Perhaps he is appealing to the same people who actually believe there is a pot of cash waiting for them in a Nigerian bank if they will only pay the fees to have it delivered. Yes, there are gullible people in the world, but Lawrence’s  claim of innocence will not wash.

WMSP is the only zoo in the UK to have supplied Amazing Animals with white lion cubs. So yes, they are indeed your lions Mr Lawrence. On the WMSP website there are many statements about your wonderful white lion breeding programme and you, Mr Lawrence, supplied them to Amazing Animals. That is clear and on the record. Questioning if the Kinoshita Circus white lions are WMSP lions is an attempt to cast doubt where none exists. To put it bluntly Mr Lawrence you supplied them and they were yours. Whether you want to apply the denial that “once sold, no further responsibility” is up to you.

Meanwhile, a statement posted on from a spokesperson from Amazing Animals indicates Bob Lawrence knew well the lions were destined for a circus. Jim Clubb, the Amazing Animals owner does not deny sending the lions to Kinoshita Circus. After all, he trained the lions to perform. Clubb argues that there is nothing illegal in this and he is right. It is not illegal to send trained animals to perform abroad, but Clubb also attempts to confuse the issue. Perhaps feeling the heat, he denigrates LionAid and the Captive Animal Protection Society by saying  “I fear this is an animal rights-inspired campaign used to generate funds for organisations that are not answerable to the charity commission, but instead have very radical agendas.”

LionAid has gained no funds from exposing WMSP and Amazing Animals’ sale of white lions to the Japanese circus. LionAid is registered with the Charity Commission as is CAPS. In fact, we have spent scarce funds to expose this story together with CAPS, Born Free, and the RSPCA. 

It is now up to the regulatory agency, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums to investigate and take the appropriate action. However, this case of the white lions and the Japanese circus is much bigger than Bob Lawrence, WMSP and Amazing Animals. It has to do with a seeming failure of oversight by BIAZA and a betrayal of the public trust placed in WMSP. It is time for some soul-searching by BIAZA and WMSP at the very minimum and perhaps a complete re-assessment of the guiding principles of UK zoos. Do zoos exist for entertainment purposes or do they really fulfil their stated conservation and public education responsibility for animals in their care? Does BIAZA attend to their regulatory role or have they become a collegial partner with the zoos on which they are dependent for their finances?

BIAZA needs to investigate and not shuffle this under the rug of limited attention spans. The BIAZA executive director, Miranda Stevenson, was recently awarded an OBE and is soon to retire. Perhaps she will recognize the urgent need for BIAZA reforms and implement change while she still holds the reins.   

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Posted by Pieter Kat at 14:32

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