Circuses will be banned from using wild animals in their shows under new Government plans in UK.
Ministers say they will outlaw the practice at the earliest opportunity and draft regulations will come before Parliament this summer.
A new licensing regime will be brought in to improve conditions for performing animals while changes in the law are developed.
But critics remain unconvinced that the Government will make the issue a priority and warn it could take several years for a ban to come into force.
Animal Welfare minister Lord Taylor said there was "no place in today's society" for wild animals to be used for entertainment in this way.
"We have said many times we wanted to ban this outdated practice, but before we could do that there were serious legal issues we had to consider," he said.
"We are developing proposals to introduce a Bill as soon as Parliamentary time allows. In the meantime we are introducing a Circus Licensing Scheme to ensure decent conditions for wild animals in travelling circuses."
Circus owners will need to have a licence and have a plan for the care for and eventual retirement of each animal.
Proposed welfare standards include good accommodation, full veterinary care and consideration given to diet and the animal's environment such as noise and temperature.
A consultation on the issue will close in April and draft regulations will be brought before Parliament in the summer.
It comes after a push for action following revelations of the mistreatment of a circus elephant, Anne , last year.
MPs backed a blanket ban last June and, though it was non-binding, it was highly embarrassing for the Government, sparking Downing Street to later signal it would bow to pressure over the demands.
But it warned there are "unavoidable legal difficulties" that must be overcome before the practice can be outlawed, with fears the Government would be open to lawsuits from circus owners and workers.
It is a hurdle that is still likely to make progress of the ban slow.
Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, who led last year's backbench call for a ban, claimed at the time he had been threatened by the Prime Minister's office unless he backed down.
"Any licensing scheme should also guarantee that no new wild animals are imported into UK circuses," he said on Wednesday.
"Quite frankly, I don't believe the Government when they say they will move towards a ban.
"I don't trust Number 10 on the issue. I will believe it when I see it. But I am not holding my breath. Time will tell if I am right."
Jan Creamer, chief executive of Animal Defenders International , who last year exposed the abuse of Anne the elephant, accused the Government of "stalling".
She said: "In the last Government consultation, 95% of the public called for a ban on wild animal acts, we have had impact assessments and feasibility studies, but it seems to us that the Government will just keep changing the question until they get the answer they want.
"It is appalling that public and parliamentary wishes are cast aside in such a cavalier manner."
Labour's shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, described the issue as being "way down the list" of the coalition's priorities.
"Today, Ministers announce a licensing regime until a ban comes in 2015, saying there is no room on the parliamentary timetable for new legislation," she said.
"Yet only yesterday they introduced a water bill into the house which will be passed in two days," Ms Creagh added.