ANIMAL rights campaigners have condemned the Government’s decision to allow a circus featuring wild animals to return to Essex this year.

Politicians and outraged activists described Whitehall’s refusal to ban the use of exotic creatures for performance tricks as “cowardly”.

They have instead urged people to stay away from the Great British Circus when it arrives in Rochford for a three-week stay in August. The travelling show is one of the few in the UK which still uses animals such as tigers, camels and zebras in its performances.

Wendy Morgan, 53, a member of campaign group Southend Animal Aid, said: “I think it’s despicable and it is so frustrating the Government would not take action. So many other countries have banned wild animals from circuses, so why can’t we?”

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, introduced by Labour, the Government has the power to ban circuses from using wild animals.

However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced last month it would bring in a licensing scheme, rather than an outright ban.

It cited the European Circus Association’s decision to take the Austrian government to court over its recently-imposed ban as the reason for the compromise.

But critics point out the case has not yet arrived in court and its outcome is far from certain.

Animal campaigners have staged protests outside the Great British Circus’s base near the Anne Boleyn pub in Southend Road, Rochford, for the last two years and say they will do so again this August.

Tory councillor Mavis Webster, Rochford District Council’s animal welfare champion, said she sympathised with the campaigners, but was unable to take direct action because the circus is not held on council land.

She said: “We can only hope the circus’s potential customers think about the issues and choose to stay away themselves.”

The Echo asked the Great British Circus to comment, but they chose not to respond to our questions.