The use of wild animals in circuses looks set to be outlawed after the results of a public consultation revealed overwhelming backing for a ban.
Ministers indicated they would take steps to bar animals such as lions and tigers performing in the big top after 94% of the thousands of people who responded said they wanted a total ban on their use.
Even more of those responding to the consultation (95.5%) said they did not think there was any species of wild animal which could acceptably be used in circuses.
Animal welfare minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: "I agree with the clear view emerging from the huge response to the Government's consultation that keeping wild animals to perform in travelling circuses is no longer acceptable. So I am minded to pursue a ban on the use of these animals in circuses."
He added: "We also want to make sure that circus animals are well looked after once they stop performing.
"Nobody wants to see them simply destroyed, and we will work with all concerned to secure a future for these animals."
Some 84% of people said they wanted to see ex-circus animals rehomed in zoos or sanctuaries.
The British Veterinary Association said it was delighted with the news that the Government was responding to the "overwhelming" call for a ban.
Professor Bill Reilly, president of the BVA, said: "Although it only affects a small number of animals at present, the BVA's Ethics and Welfare Group felt that their needs and the needs of future animals could not be adequately met by the environmental conditions of a travelling circus.
"If the Government goes ahead with a ban it is vital that each animal is individually assessed so that appropriate action can be taken. This could include rehoming to a zoo or sanctuary, living out the rest of its life with existing owners, or other options that can meet its needs."