In an unprecedented step for Portugal, Funchal, the largest city and capital of the autonomous region of Madeira, has banned all circuses that involve live animals from setting up in the municipality.
Speaking to news site Boas Notícias, Fernando Rodrigues, member of the PAN party for nature and animals, confirmed what many will see as a major breakthrough for animal welfare.
With the local authority being made up of six parties, including PAN, the council has said it will not issue licenses to circuses that use live animals visiting the city during the Christmas period.
Fernando Rodrigues, coordinator of the PAN regional policy committee, said “the measure will remain in place for as long as the coalition is in power.”
According to Boas Noticias the circuses that regularly visit Funchal normally include tigers, ponies, snakes, crocodiles and seals.
The proposal was put forward by PAN Madeira, part of the Coalition for Change, and it was confirmed last Tuesday during a meeting between the heads of the party and Funchal council.
Every year, two circuses set up in Funchal, one in the Formosa beach area and the other near the Madeira Tecnopole.
It is suggested that the council’s decision could eventually lead to shows in neighbouring counties such as Santa Cruz, Câmara de Lobos, Machico or Ribeira Brava also being banned.
Fernando Rodrigues said his party hopes “this measure serves as an example and an incentive for other municipalities in the country”.
Admitting that circuses have already reacted with complaints, arguing that they will be losing their livelihoods, Rodrigues added: “But that argument is not valid to perpetuate the practice; slavery was also profitable and even so it was abolished.”
He said his party is also making efforts to stop a company that uses birds of prey and nocturnal birds as a tourist attraction, saying “the nocturnal birds, for example, suffer a lot with this exercise because they are not used to the light of day.”
In comments to national daily newspaper Correio da Manhã the Mayor of Funchal Paulo Cafôfo said: “Once circuses had the so-called ‘freak show’ spectacles, people who were exposed in degrading shows for their physical characteristics. There was a cultural evolution and today we are on a different level of civilization.”
Justifying the decision by saying the animals are exposed to pain and fear, he added: “We are going to clamp down intensely and stop street shows that use birds of prey.”
Funchal council has also recently introduced a sterilization campaign for street cats and dogs and is to spend €50,000 on renovating the local municipal kennel.
It is further carrying out an awareness-raising campaign among schools.