Congressional legislation aimed at protecting circus animals
Animal welfare advocates wanted to bring a "bull hook," a device used to prod elephants, to Capitol Hill to highlight proposed legislation that seeks to protect exotic animals from abuse. But they said they were told it was too dangerous to get past security.
They told that story to make the case for legislation, introduced Wednesday, that would crack down on the use of exotic animals such as elephants, lions and tigers, in road shows.
"It doesn’t make any sense to me that we’re teaching our children in the United States in 2011 that it’s OK to have an elephant standing on its head in the middle of a ring and call it education," said Ed Stewart, co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, which operates animal sanctuaries in California.
The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), would stop the use of exotic animals in circuses if, during the 15-day period preceding the performance, the animal traveled in a “mobile housing facility."
Although there are pressing economic issues facing the country, Moran said, "that doesn’t mean that we can’t also find time to focus public attention on examples of fundamental animal mistreatment."
Moran was joined by animal advocate and TV personality Bob Barker, CSI actress Jorja Fox and Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, in unveiling the bill.
"We’re not going to put anybody out of business," Stewart said. "There are many incredibly successful circuses with no animals."
The bill targets circuses "that keep their animals on the road for most of the year," such as those that keep elephants in chains and confine lions and tigers in small cages, Moran said. It exempts zoos, rodeos and animals used in movies and TV. The bill does not address exotic animals kept on private property like the 55 exotic animals recently released by their owner in Ohio.
Feld Entertainment Inc., producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, said in a statement that the legislation "discriminatorily targets" traveling circuses and is "designed to censor entertainment and remove the right to let the American public choose for itself whether Ringling Bros. Circus, a 141-year-old American institution, can continue to operate."
"In this day and age, when businesses are failing, the economy is struggling and families are worried, Congressman Moran is busying himself with legislation that immediately threatens to end the livelihood of more than 250 families working right here in his own congressional district for a family-owned business in order to pander instead to animal rights activists," the statement said.
--Richard Simon in Washington
Photo: Rep. Jim Moran center, flanked by Bob Barker, right, and Jorja Fox, speaks at a news conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill to announce legislation to restrict the use of exotic animals in traveling circuses. Credit: Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press