Wild animals will be banned from travelling circuses in England within the next two years, the government has said.
It said the ban would come into force before January 2020, meaning the country will fall into line with Scotland, which brought in its own ban last year, and Wales, which is set to introduce one.
The announcement came a year after the 250th anniversary of circuses in Britain and was welcomed by animal rights campaigners.
A licensing system to prevent the mistreatment of animals was brought in by the previous government but campaigners said it didn’t go far enough.
David Bowles from the RSPCA said: “The news that the government has said there will be no wild animals in circuses in England after the 2019 season or earlier is very welcome and comes as a huge relief.
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“It’s been a long-time coming. This announcement gives circuses a clear two-year warning that no more licences will be issued and after that there will be a ban on wild animals in circuses.
“The complex needs of wild animals can never be adequately met in a circus environment and regular transport, cramped and bare temporary housing, forced training and performance are all unavoidable realities for the animals.”
Animals such as zebras, camels and reindeer are currently being used by circuses.
The ban was confirmed by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
A spokeswoman for the department said: “We remain absolute in our commitment to banning wild animals in circuses and intend to introduce the ban prior to the regulations expiring in January 2020.
“Until we are able to achieve this, we will impose the strictest possible standards to ensure the welfare needs of these animals are met.”