Congress Considers Ban on Performing Elephants

Congress Considers Ban on Performing Elephants

By: Patti Strand  Date: 10/9/1999 Category: | Animal Legislation | Animals in Education & Entertainment |

In September 1999, California Representative Sam Farr, a Democrat, introduced HR 2929, subtitled the Captive Elephant Accident Protection Act. HR 2929 bans the use of elephants in traveling exhibits and for elephant rides.

HR 2929 is supported by a handful of Hollywood animal rights activists and animal rights groups including game show host and anti-fur activist Bob Barker, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Humane Society of the US, the Animal Protection Institute, The Doris Day Animal league, the Fund for Animals, and the Performing Animal Welfare Society. Barker and PAWS director Pat Derby, a former Hollywood animal trainer, have taken the lead in the campaign to banish circus elephants as both sentient beings who deserve a better life and angry beasts waiting to trample unsuspecting members of the circus audience or to run amuck with a load of children on their backs.

Opposing the bill are circuses, elephant exhibitors, zoos, elephant handlers, and the Outdoor Amusement Business Association.

On June 13, the Subcommittee on Crime of the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, heard testimony on the bill from several witnesses, including Derby, Barker, a Florida police officer, a former circus elephant handler, representatives of two zoos, and a variety of elephant experts and other supporters of elephants in entertainment.

Proponents of the bill highlighted the danger of human contact with animals weighing up to eight tons and tied the safety issues to training methods they claimed are cruel and housing and travel methods they contended are abusive. Opponents of the bill emphasized

  • the overwhelming evidence on the side of safety - millions of performances and rides held with only a handful of incidents;
  • the value of up-close-and-personal public contact with elephants to understanding of the huge animals;
  • the evolution of training methods to eliminate harsh physical punishment;
  • the good health and well-being of circus and zoo elephants that are stimulated by training and performing;
  • the contribution of circuses and other entertainment businesses using elephants to conservation of the species and the value of cooperative efforts between circuses and zoos in elephant research; and
  • the presence of federal and state regulations that govern the care and use of exotic animals for entertainment and education.



Snippets of testimony

"This bill is a solution in search of a problem. We stand before this committee prepared to affirm that the circus with elephants is a safe, wonderful and educational form of family entertainment. In looking at the existing records, not one circus patron has ever been killed by a circus elephant in the US. In 1999 over 30 million people attended circuses with animals without incident. ... More than 10 million people have ridden elephants at circuses in this country in the past 10 years without a serious injury or death. Additionally, the companies that insure the bulk of the circus elephants have provided written documentation that circus elephants are not a liability-ridden risk." - David Rawls, owner, Kelly Miller Circus

"Six Flags Marine World is currently home to four Asian and four African elephants, ranging in age from two-year-old Kala to 60-year-old Taj, the oldest elephant in a North American Zoo. Six Flags Marine World hosts two million guests a year. We present educational elephant shows, elephant close-encounters and feeding opportunities, and elephant rides to the public. The elephants at Six Flags Marine World have also participated in scientific studies benefiting elephants in zoos and in the wild, including work with elephant foot care, dental care, ultrasonic communication, chemical communication, locomotion, DNA analysis, and pioneering veterinary care procedures including infrared light treatments and artificial insemination.

"For the health and well-being of our wonderful elephants, and for the benefit of all the people who learn to love them and to want to protect them in the wild, I am here today to urge you to reject HR 2929, the mistitled Captive Elephant Accident Protection Act. Though it may have originally been well-intentioned, HR 2929 would end up doing more harm than good for the animals, and it would deprive families of a safe and meaningful interaction with a favorite animal, an endangered species in the wild, that dearly needs public support." - David Blasko, elephant training supervisor, Six Flags Marine World, Vallejo, California; elephant training, care, and safety consultant for USDA, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game; and instructor in the elephant management school at the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. "HR 2929 protects neither the public or elephants. Worse it actually hinders efforts to raise the public's awareness of elephant conservation issues. Individuals with little to no experience or knowledge of elephants or elephant management are attempting to put a halt to public interaction with elephants to accomplish their goals of eliminating elephants in North America. They seek to dictate how knowledgeable, experienced and caring elephant professionals (who have invested so much time, effort and resources to the care of their elephants) manage elephants, who can have elephants, and how the public can interact with elephants." - Deborah Olson, Director of Conservation and Science Programs for the Indianapolis Zoo, North American Regional Studbook keeper for African elephants, editor of the quarterly Journal of the Elephant Managers Association, a member of the AZA, Program Officer of the International Elephant Foundation, and an elected member of the AZA Elephant Species Survival Plan Management Group for the last 10 years.

"A partnership exists as zoos work with those "who travel with elephants," the circuses and private individuals. Elephants that travel reach people who do not live close to zoos. Circuses developed many of the training skills we used to condition our elephants for the artificial insemination procedure. In fact most zoos directly employ these skills in the management of their elephants today - basic behaviors (laydown, stretch, foot lifts etc.) and husbandry behaviors (bathing, foot care, tusk protectors, etc.). These same individuals and organizations are also active participants in cooperative breeding, research and field conservation projects for both African and Asian elephants." - Deborah Olson, Director of Conservation and Science Programs for the Indianapolis Zoo. "Circuses are actively involved in the scientific investigation of the physiology, reproduction, and behavior of elephants. The personal efforts and professional investment of those who work with elephants have resulted in tremendous strides for elephant welfare in the last 10 to 15 years. ... The opportunities that allow the public to see, touch and be amazed by elephants in circuses cannot be duplicated by documentaries on television. The issue of public safety during direct contact with elephants is a crucial consideration. The record of public safety with elephants in circuses is a tribute to the communication between individual animals and their trainers. The rare exceptions should not be used to characterize the whole human-elephant interaction and drive the passage of this legislation." - Dennis Schmitt DVM, PhD, professor of animal science; board certified in veterinary reproduction by the American College of Theriogenology; member of the board of directors for the International Elephant Foundation; and reproductive advisor for elephants on the Species Survival Plan committee of the AZA.

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