The show must go on, but COVID-19 and animal ban threaten French circuses

A camel is pictured at the Royal Circus home base in Senas as circus shows remained shut as part of COVID-19 restrictions measures to fight the coronavirus disease outbreak in France, February 9, 2021. William Kerwich, owner of the Royal Circus and President of the Circus and Shows Animals Union, denounced also an animal welfare bill?which is debated by French lawmakers that would ban using wild animals in traveling circuses and keeping dolphins and whales in captivity in marine parks. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

SENAS, France (Reuters) - William Kerwich hasn't performed a circus show since March. Instead, his family's travelling circus has been parked on a plot of land in southern France, his lions and tigers confined to their pens and his main tent packed up.

Kerwich can only guess when the COVID-19 crisis will ease enough for the government to allow his circus to resume entertaining crowds. Even then he faces another threat to his livelihood: a likely ban on wild animals in circuses.

"We might lose our animals, but also our profession, our tradition," he told Reuters.

Kerwich had to put his circus' tour on hold last spring when France was placed under one of Europe's toughest lockdowns. His family was preparing to go back on the road after the summer when a second round of COVID-19 restrictions was imposed.

He said that small circuses had been abandoned by the state, even though it spent tens of billions of euros propping up businesses. He received financial support of two euros a day per animal during the spring lockdown, a fraction of what was needed, and nothing since.

"We shouldn't be left to deal with this alone," he said.

In September, France announced a gradual ban on using bears, tigers, elephants and other wild animals in circuses on the grounds of their welfare.

Parliament is debating the draft legislation. If it is approved, as is likely after the National Assembly voted in favour, the ban will be phased in over five years.

Kerwich's young daughter, Cassandra, has performed all her life. She dismissed any suggestion the family's animals were mistreated.

"They're part of the family," she said. "The hippo is the same age as my little brother. I grew up with it."

(Editing by Richard Lough and Mike Collett-White)

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