There is no nationwide ban on circuses using wild animals (“non-domesticated” species such as lions and tigers, many of which are born in captivity). Several communes which have brought in bylaws have been fined for doing so.
Christian Caffy, of the Fédération des Cirques de Tradition, said they may only register a “wish” that such circuses should not operate.
He said, however, that the government is consulting with all parties on changes, ranging from a ban to efforts to improve animal welfare standards (which the circuses claim are already high).
He said that if there is a ban, the industry fears as many as 3,000 jobs could be lost. No compensation is agreed although it is part of the discussions.
As for what could be done with the 1,500 wild animals, Mr Caffy said they have asked the ministry but he thinks euthanasia is the only solution.
Some cite refuges such as Elephant Haven, being set up in Haute-Vienne (it has no elephants yet but hopes to have its first this year) but Mr Caffy said there are questions over how they can be funded.
Zoos are another possibility, but Mr Caffy claimed there is no demand from them. He added that it is not possible to release animals which are used to living with humans into the wild.
When they banned animals in circuses in Mexico, 600 of them were killed, he said.
One French circus which has given up its animals has so far refused to say what happened to them, Mr Caffy added.
Animal charity Peta said transitional measures must be taken so the animals are looked after for life, preferably in accredited refuges/sanctuaries.
Breeding and acquisition of new animals should be stopped so no “new generations of animals are reproduced and brought up to end up as prisoners of the circuses”, a spokeswoman said.