Animal charities have joined activists in denouncing the arrival of a controversial animal circus at Brent Cross.

The announcement that Zippos Circus would return to the shopping centre was met with outrage by hundreds of animal rights activists.

They believe the circus is stressful for the animals and their welfare cannot be guaranteed.

There was also anger over claims the living conditions of the horses used in the show were approved by international wildlife charity Born Free.

Martin Burton, owner of Zippos Circus, said: "We held long and frank discussions with Born Free.

"We built the stables to Born Free's dimensions and it designed the stables over ten years ago. We are still using them today."

However, Born Free chief executive Will Travers said advice was only offered to the circus by a former Born Free employee on how to improve the "sub-optimal" animal conditions over the short-term.

He said: "This advice in no way compromised our final verdict on circuses published at the time, or our consistent stance against the use of animals in circuses.

"Clearly the circus is not approved, endorsed, or anything else by Born Free."

Zippos Circus, which will be at Brent Cross from tomorrow until February 24, has been criticised for its use of horses, budgies and a dog in acts.

RSPCA spokeswoman Klare Kennett said: "We are opposed to exhibitions or presentations of all animals, of whatever species, in circuses and travelling menageries. We look forward to the day when animals in circuses are a thing of the past.

"We are concerned about the welfare of the animals involved because we believe the circus environment, due to its transitory nature, cannot guarantee the ongoing high standards of care animals require."

When the issue was last reported in this paper, it generated almost 250 responses from readers, and a poll on the Times Series website found more than 2,500 voters (94.4 per cent) thought keeping animals to perform in circuses was cruel.

Mr Burton responded: "This is not about bringing a few local activists to the area, it is an orchestrated campaign and needs to be viewed in that light. Supporters of the animal rights movement are choosing this moment to jump on the bandwagon of the web blogs.

"A lot of people have got confused about what happens at Zippos.

"I can speak for the welfare of the animals in the circus and show that it is possible to travel domestic animals in the circus without causing stress."

Protestors are expected to turn up at Brent Cross over the weekends when the circus is there.

But a Brent Cross spokeswoman said: "Thousands of people come to see the circus here and there is great support from shoppers.

"We expect the highest standards from the companies that come here and we ensure those standards are met."