TANNOY-TOTING animal rights protesters descended on a visiting Shropshire circus that has the country's last captive bear, Ming, reports Lisa Frascarelli.

Around ten banner-waving activists lined the gateway to the animal circus in Carnforth on Wednesday, in an attempt to persuade the paying public to go home.

Peter Jolly's Circus has attracted nationwide media attention as its menagerie, which includes a 23-year-old bear, has become the battleground for campaigners who claim animal circuses are a "cruel Victorian relic."

At Carnforth, members of the North West Animal Rights Coalition (NWARC) persuaded some circus-goers to turn back, telling them it was time Ming was allowed to retire.

Ian Richards, of the NWARC, said Peter Jolly's circus was one of four animal circuses in Britain and his show was out-dated and degrading. "We are protesting against Peter Jolly's not-so-jolly circus," he said.

"Animal circuses are a Victorian relic that do not belong in this modern day. So far we've managed to turn a few people away.

"We're particularly concerned about Ming, the last surviving bear in any British circus. We want Mr Jolly to put compassion before the pound signs and allow Ming to go to the sanctuary in Canada where the RSPCA have offered to home her, rather than be dragged around in public."

Peter Jolly's Circus includes performing camels, zebras, llamas, horses, snakes, birds and goats as well as star attraction Ming, whose stage trick is to drink a bottle of milk.

The RSPCA and other animal charities have offered to home Ming in previous years but Mr Jolly has declined the offer.

"We are forming a trust and have set a piece of land aside for Ming when she eventually retires," said Mr Jolly.

"She (Ming) is fit and well. She has regular checks and has been with the circus since she was 11 days old.

"We are inspected on a regular basis to check our animals are healthy and we are not doing anything illegal.

"Those people are standing there and stopping me earning an honest living.

"Until such time as the law changes, Jolly's Circus will have animals."

Mr Jolly, who started his circus career as a teenager with a troupe of polar bears, said animal circuses were not cruel and gave children the opportunity to see wild animals close up.

Spokesperson for the RSPCA Heather Holmes said: "The RSPCA is against animals in entertainment, it plays no role in education or conservation."

She added should Mr Jolly decide to retire Ming, the RSPCA would be delighted to help resettle the bear.