Final curtain for Britain's last lion tamer after he is refused a licence and told he can't use big cats in his circus …

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  • Thomas Chipperfield has been told he cannot use his three big cats in the circus
  • He is Britain’s last lion tamer and has two of the animals, as well as a single tiger
  • The government has pledged to ban wild animals being used in circuses by 2020

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Britain’s last lion tamer has been refused a licence in a move that is likely to spell the end for performances starring big cats.

Thomas Chipperfield has been told that he cannot use his three big cats in circus performances. The move follows the Government’s commitment to banning wild animals in circuses by 2020.

That pledge came after the Mail helped rescue Britain’s last circus elephant, Anne, who was abused at another organisation.

Thomas Chipperfield, Britain's last lion tamer, with one of his lions, Tsavo, pictured in 2014

Thomas Chipperfield, Britain’s last lion tamer, with one of his lions, Tsavo, pictured in 2014

Mr Chipperfield, 28, who comes from a long line of animal tamers, has been told he cannot perform with the two lions and a tiger he keeps in a field in Staffordshire.

Three centuries of animals in the big top

The Chipperfields’ history of animal training goes back more than 300 years.

Thomas’s ancestor James Chipperfield introduced performing exotic animals to Britain, exhibiting them on the frozen Thames at the Frost Fair in 1684.

In the 1950s, Chipperfield’s Circus was the biggest in Europe, with a tent that seated 6,000 and animals including polar bears and chimps.

Thomas’s great-uncle Jimmy Chipperfield created safari parks including Longleat in Wiltshire, Woburn in Bedfordshire and Knowsley, Merseyside.

He last performed with big cats in 2015 in Wales at ‘An Evening with Lions and Tigers’. He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘You can’t afford to mistreat a lion or tiger, because eventually they will turn.

‘They will realise they are a lot stronger, faster and more dangerous than you, and it can only end very badly.’

Only two circuses still perform in England with wild animals – Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus – but they do not have big cats.

Scotland prohibited wild animals in circuses last year and Wales is looking to do the same. A Government consultation found 94.5 per cent of the public favour a ban.

Welfare campaigners Animal Defenders International (ADI) said Mr Chipperfield has been off the road for more than two years after withdrawing his first licence application when a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) inspection found his animals’ accommodation was not big enough. A 2015 tour of Wales, where regulations do not apply, sparked a public outcry.

ADI claimed the big cats were confined to cages on the back of a truck with restricted access to an exercise area.

The group’s footage has allegedly shown the animals displaying abnormal behaviour, indicating they were not coping with their environment, but Mr Chipperfield denies wrongdoing.

The lion tamer, of Winchester, Hampshire, said no welfare concerns had been raised and he planned to appeal.

He had already appealed the original decision from July, but his defence was dismissed.

Mr Chipperfield has been told he cannot use his three big cats in circus performances, he has two lions and a tiger

Mr Chipperfield has been told he cannot use his three big cats in circus performances, he has two lions and a tiger

Licences to ensure animal welfare were brought in while a ban was making its passage through Parliament.

Defra said it remained ‘absolute’ in its commitment to ban wild animals in circuses.

Mr Chipperfield told the BBC his second appeal limited what he could say but he had ‘consistently acted in good faith with my team on the advice given by the circus licensing panel and their inspectors’, adding: ‘This advice was often conflicting.’ ADI president Jan Creamer said the decision was ‘a victory for common sense’.

Anne the elephant, who was abused by staff at Bobby Roberts Super Circus, has been rehomed at Longleat Safari Park in a GBP1million enclosure that generous Daily Mail readers helped to fund.

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References

  1. ^ e-mail (www.dailymail.co.uk)

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