The mayor of a city in southern Russia has banned circuses that use wild animals in their acts.
Beslan Tsechoyev, mayor of Magas in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, says "circuses are the cruellest form of animal exploitation, where they are kept in abnormal conditions. No spectacle that uses any type of animals will ever be allowed in Magas".
His decision to cancel a big-top performance in the city's central Alania Square, scheduled for 6 May, was published on the city council news site and quickly picked up by the national media, as Russia has a long and popular circus tradition.
'Turning them into prisoners'
Equestrian events are very popular throughout the Caucasus, so Mayor Tsechoyev was careful to draw a distinction between "acrobatic displays conducted in the animals' natural habitat" on the one hand and training to perform circus tricks on the other, which he likened to "turning them into prisoners".
The government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta added that Magas council plans a "major campaign to teach children and young people how to treat animals humanely".
The 38-year-old mayor, who has run the capital of the Ingushetia autonomous republic since 2015, has a record on animal welfare unusual among Russian bureaucrats, and regularly highlights his concerns on his Instagram account.
He earlier blocked plans to build a dolphinarium in Magas, on the grounds that these "remarkable and loveable creatures should roam free and happy in their natural environment," he wrote on Instagram.
Instead he proposed a shelter for homeless animals with a playground attached, so children could see the animals being cared for.
Last year he set up red squirrel hutches, heated kennels for stray cats and dogs, and drinking bowls and pools for them to cool off in during the hot summer months, TASS news agency reports.
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Mr Tsechoyev is up to date with much international thinking on wild animals in circuses, as they have been banned in many European countries.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove pledged this month to have them banned in Britain by next year.
'Crackdown on activists'
The mayor's stance has elicited broadly favourable reaction from the public, although he is not without his critics.
The Kavkaz Versia news site says this former aide to Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, Ingushetia's long-serving leader, "launched his 'don't turn animals into prisoners' campaign in the midst of a crackdown on local activists" after clashes between police and protesters objecting to possible changes to the border with neighbouring Chechnya.
"About 20 political prisoners are at present being 'kept in abnormal conditions' in city police cells," it concludes drily.
Reporting by Yaroslava Kiryukhina and Martin Morgan
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