A controversial circus that has sparked protests among animal welfare campaigners has rolled into Bradford.

Peter Jolly’s Circus, one of just two nationwide that continue to use big cats such as lions and tigers, last night defended its use of wild animals as it set up camp on private land near Queensbury Golf Club.

But members of global wildlife charity Born Free said they were “horrified” by the use of such animals, describing it as “shameful cruelty”, while the RSPCA said there was no place for such an “outdated practice” in modern society.

Despite protests when the circus visited Otley last week, shows featuring a wide array of creatures including zebras, camels and reindeer will start today in Queensbury.

Lynne Coates, a member of the global wildlife charity Born Free, was one of the people who protested against the circus in Otley last week.

“I was completely horrified to see this circus turn up on my own doorstep,” she said. “People are unaware of what they are going to see, and last week we saw families with young children turn around and leave when they saw the animals.

"Nobody is against circuses, we just don’t think animals should be treated in this way. The sheer nature of their lifestyle, travelling everywhere in ‘beast-wagons’, cannot be fair.

"It is shameful cruelty, but the circus propaganda machine is an effective one.”

A spokesman for the RSPCA, which is urging the government to deliver on its Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, said: “We are disappointed to hear that a circus with lions, tigers and other wild animals has come to Bradford.

“There is no place for this outdated practice which could be causing animals to suffer just for our entertainment in any modern society, and England should be leading the way in putting an end to it.”

But Peter Jolly, who has travelled with the circus for 43 years, hit back: “The art of circus has a rich tradition in this country, and animals who perform are providing a pleasurable and enriching performance for our audiences.

“At Jolly’s we live and work with the animals on a daily basis, so their welfare is very important to us. They come from bloodlines that have been involved in circus performance for many generations, and their training programmes take into account their needs and natural behaviours. I would hope anyone who has doubts about our circus would come along and see for themselves before they criticise.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed that Jolly’s circus possessed all the correct licences for its livestock, and stated that the proposed Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, which would ban the use of all wild animals in travelling circuses, was still being scrutinised in Parliament and not due to come into force until December 2015.