A STORM of controversy is brewing over the arrival of an animal circus in Chingford next week The tents of the Great British Circus will be pitched on Chingford Plain from Monday, bringing exotic animals such as lions, tigers, zebras, camels and reindeer to the borough.

The circus boasts the largest collection of wild animals currently touring Britain.

The Guardian has received complaints from the public concerned over the use of animals for exhibition, a position supported by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and other animal welfare groups.

Waltham Forest Council will not authorise animal circuses in the borough according to a long standing agreement, but the land, part of Epping Forest, is owned by the Corporation of London so the circus will open to the public between Tuesday, October 18, and Sunday, November 6.

A corporation spokesman said that as the circus' request was legal and it had not been convicted on any animal welfare issues it would not prevent the show from going ahead.

Martin Lacey, an animal trainer with the circus, said: "There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the role of animals in circuses. We are a member of the European Circus Association which sets the highest standards for animal husbandry, transportation and training.

"Performing animals live longer than other animals in captivity and outlive their counterparts in the wild. This is due in part to their active and enriched lifestyle, which includes regular exercise, interaction with humans, good veterinary care and good nutrition.

"Children adore seeing the animals and without them the circus is no more than a variety show in a tent."

Mr Lacey pointed out that the circus was regularly inspected by the RSPCA and had picked up several awards for its treatment of animals from circus organisations.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said carrying out inspections did not mean the charity endorsed animal circuses.

She continued: "The RSPCA is opposed to exhibitions or presentations of all animals, whatever species, in circuses.

"We are concerned about the welfare of animals involved because we believe that the circus environment, owing to its transitory nature, cannot guarantee the ongoing standards of care animals require. These concerns are most acute in caring for wild and exotic animals."

The society says it does not believe performing animals are educational or have any role in conservation.

It urges the public to contact their MPs supporting a ban on the use of performing animals in circuses in the Government's forthcoming Animal Welfare Bill.

Peaceful protests have been organised at the circus's recent performances in Essex by the animal welfare group Essex Animal Freedom (EAF) and Gary Sheen, a campaigner with the group, says they will be handing out RSPCA leaflets at the Chingford shows.