Ringling: US Congress, Seattle mayor consider bans on performing animals

By: Staff  Date: 01/15/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Animal Rights Extremism | Animals in Education & Entertainment |

Congressman Sam Farr wants to ban elephants in circuses. Mayor Paul Schell of Seattle, Washington, wants his city to go a bit further and ban all wild animal acts at city facilities, and Redmond, Washington, enacted a circus animal ban in October.

Farr and Schell agree with animal rights activists that circus animals suffer physically and psychologically from captivity and the rigors of training, but circus officials and supporters counter the arguments with evidence that circus animals are well-treated; trained with positive reinforcement, not punishment; not unduly stressed by travel and performances; and are no more aggressive than their wild counterparts.

On September 23, Farr introduced HR 2929, "The Captive Elephant Accident Protection Act," to prohibit the sale, lease, or use of elephants in travelling shows or circuses and elephant rides.

In remarks to Congress, Farr said that his bill will "make circuses more humane for animals and safer for spectators." Citing information provided by animal rights activists, Farr claimed that "elephants are brutalized" in order to get them to "behave like trained dogs.

" But circus officials strenuously disagreed. "The introduction of this bill is nothing more than a scare tactic and an attempt to move the extreme animal rights agenda forward," said Joan Galvin, vice president for government affairs at Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. "Ringling Brothers has never had an animal-related incident that put a member of the general public at risk. In fact, there is no evidence at all that captive animals are any more prone to aggressive or erratic behavior than those in the wild."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals compiled a list of elephant incidents - injuries and deaths - occurring since 1990 in circuses, zoos, animal parks, publicity events, and work farms in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America. Of the nearly six dozen encounters on the list, Ringling has a single incident: the death of a trainer at the company's elephant farm.

Citing statistics gathered by anti-circus animal rights groups, Ringling said in its opposition to the HR2929: "Congressman Farr's legislation relies on emotion rather than fact to support the notion that elephants in circuses and traveling shows pose a danger to the general public. Statistics provided by animal rights organizations such as PeTA and HSUS indicate that fewer than five members of the public have been injured while attending an American circus performance in the past 20 years. None of these incidents involved direct contact between patrons and performing elephants or aggressive acts on the part of the elephant.

Furthermore, and contrary to Mr. Farr's claims, no members of the public have been killed while attending a circus performance - the only two deaths that have occurred were as the result of individuals who trespassed inside an elephant compound after hours."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Humane Society of the US, and the Performing Animal Welfare Society have long opposed the use of elephants and other animals in any form of entertainment. As in other campaigns, they have cobbled together strings of incidents along with surreptitiously-filmed videotapes and testimony from various luminaries and other activists to comprise evidence that animals are mistreated in training and housed inhumanely. Each criminal or accidental incident adds fuel to the fire.

Deaths and injuries

Circuses and other animal exhibitors are licensed by the federal government and subject to both routine inspections and investigations of complaints. Charges can be filed if violations of the Animal Welfare Act are found.

There have been several incidents involving circus elephants in the past few years, some of them resulting in convictions and fines. Ringling Brothers recently lost two elephants and faced charges by the US Department of Agriculture under the AWA in one of the deaths. Ringling denied the charges, reached agreement with the federal agency in 1998, and donated $20,000 to elephant care and research.

This year, Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus has been accused of abuse for use of an elephant hook on four animals in mid-1998. In June 1998, King Royal Circus was convicted of neglect in the death of an elephant, was fined $200,000, and lost its exhibitor's license.

John Cuneo of Hawthorne Corporation provides elephants to circuses and has been in trouble for AWA violations. In 1996, USDA filed charges for failure to properly handle an animal after an elephant killed a trainer, injured a groom, ran amok in Hawaii and was killed by police. Several spectators were also injured.

Cuneo paid a penalty of $12,500 without admitting liability. Months later, his license was suspended for three weeks for attempting to ship a young elephant to Puerto Rico before the animal completed treatment for tuberculosis.

But supporters of HR 2929 cite dozens of injuries and deaths caused by elephants, many of them involving zoos, not circuses, and many more that took place in foreign countries. Of the 44 deaths claimed by PeTA since 1990, 30 took place outside the US. Of 12 deaths listed in the US, one occurred before 1990, five involved zoo animals, one occurred at Ringling's elephant farm, three involved circus animals, and two were unspecified. Of the three involving circus animals, two occurred when visitors entered the animal areas and the third was the case in which Cuneo paid a penalty to USDA. One foreign death is recorded twice on the list and another occurred prior to 1990.

Injuries have occurred during elephant rides or publicity events, but again, most serious injuries happen to animal handlers.


The rationale for the Seattle ban on wild animal acts echoes that used by Farr and animal rights activists: the mayor claims that circus animals are "sentenced to a stressful, constrained existence with little or no chance to behave naturally."

"During my mayoral campaign two years ago, several groups and individuals asked me to consider prohibiting events that featured exotic animals such as lions and elephants at city facilities," Schell wrote in a letter. "Recently, a fourth grade class from the Waldorf School in Seattle signed a petition supporting such a ban."

The proposed ban is promoted by Citizens for Cruelty-Free Entertainment in Seattle and supported by national animal rights groups.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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