Italy has with one of the biggest circus industries in the world but has voted to phase out all animals in circuses and travelling shows. The UK is being urged to follow suit.

Rules for implementation of the new legislation to phase out all animals in circuses will be set out within one year by a Ministerial decree. The ban has been hailed by Animal Defenders International (ADI) as a major breakthrough.

Italy is the 41st country to pass a national law prohibiting animals in circuses, with an estimated 100 circuses and some 2,000 animals, and the move is being heralded as one of the biggest victories ever in the campaign to stop circus suffering.

Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, said: “Travelling from place to place, week after week, using temporary collapsible cages and pens, circuses simply cannot provide for the needs of the animals. Through ADI’s undercover investigations we have shown the violence and abuse that is used to force these animals to obey and perform tricks. We applaud Italy and urge countries like the UK and the USA to follow this example and end this cruelty.”

Undercover investigations by ADI inside animal circuses in the UK, Europe, USA, and South America have lifted the curtain on the abuse that goes on behind the scenes in circuses leading to bans in countries as diverse as Greece, Singapore, Costa Rica, Taiwan and Colombia.

In Bolivia and Peru, ADI have completed major enforcement operations, with wildlife officials and police, tracking down every circus and rescuing all the animals – approaching 200 animals were rescued and relocated.

Expert analysis of scientific evidence undertaken by Professor Stephen Harris at Bristol University last year concluded, “The available scientific evidence indicates that captive wild animals in circuses and other travelling animal shows do not achieve their optimal welfare requirements.” The report stated that “Life for wild animals in travelling circuses…does not appear to constitute either a ‘good life’ or a ‘life worth living’”.

The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) found that “there is by no means the possibility that their [wild mammals in travelling circuses’] physiological, mental and social requirements can adequately be met.”

The British Veterinary Association concluded: “The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus - in terms of housing or being able to express normal behaviour.”

In Scotland, the government has introduced a bill to ban wild animals in circuses which has progressed to Stage 2 for further scrutiny. ADI and local supporters are urging MSPs to back the legislation.

In Wales, the government has recently consulted on mobile animal exhibits and asked whether a ban on wild animals in circuses should be considered. ADI and local supporters submitted responses to.

In England, the government has stated that it remains committed to a ban but has given no indication as to when the legislation, drafted and scrutinised back in 2013, will be introduced.

Also, in Ireland, a private members bill to ban wild animals in circuses will be debated on 21 November.