One of the world’s best known animal welfare charities has condemned the living conditions of the five big cats being kept in a north east enclosure.
The Born Free Foundation has said they are “extremely concerned” after sending an investigator to view the site set up for the animals at Circus High School, Cairnglass, near Fraserburgh.
Thomas Chipperfield is wintering two lions and three tigers on the site and has used the animals previously as part of Peter Jolly’s Circus.
The Born Free investigator was alarmed by the pen and “beast wagons” in which the animals were living, and with the fact that the animals got no break from “circus conditions” after being on the road.
The investigator also said he witnessed aggression between male tigers.
It comes just days after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) claimed that the lives of the wild animals were “grim”.
However, Mr Chipperfield said: “I haven’t been approached by Born Free at all so I feel that this request is nothing more than an insincere publicity stunt.
“My animals are taken care of perfectly well where they are. The environment in which they live will allow them to outlive zoo animals, and I make that claim based on years of experience.
“I work closely with and seek the advice of academics, such as vets and professional animal behaviour experts, and not charities whose objection to what I do is purely ideological.”
The Born Free Foundation is now investigating whether the necessary licences have been acquired for animals to be housed on the premises.
The Scottish Government held a consultation earlier this year on banning the use of wild animals in circuses.
Adam Roberts, chief executive officer of Born Free, said: “It is staggering that the Government has still not fulfilled its promise to ban wild animals in circuses. And all the while, wild animals such as these tigers and lions continue to be kept in an unsuitable captive environment.
“We would also like to ask Mr Chipperfield if he is willing to work with us to give these animals a more suitable environment at a permanent rescue facility, and to ensure that they will not go on tour again.”
In response to Mr Chipperfield’s claims, a Peta spokeswoman said: “Mr Chipperfield has a vested interest in covering up the truth, which is that animals in captivity, such as the lions and tigers in Aberdeenshire, have their spirits broken and are isolated, lonely, degraded and bored.
“They are deprived of everything that’s natural and important to them and kept in cages that are too small to allow them to take more than a step or two.”