Under mounting pressure from activists to regulate circuses, the Charlotte City Council will soon consider rules that would restrict which animals can appear in traveling acts.
One recommendation made to City Manager Marcus Jones, according to a Dec. 31. special report recently obtained by The Charlotte Observer, is to “consider (a) provision banning the use of wild and exotic animals in circuses.”
Another option calls for banning the use of bull hooks, the sharp training tool used to prod at elephants.
Sometimes, banning bull hooks can act as a proxy for a ban on wild animals. But activists say this is a less stringent — and outdated — policy that doesn’t adequately address public safety concerns or animal welfare.
“The issue of allowing circus animal performances is a policy consideration, that does not result in significant administrative or fiscal impacts for the city,” the report reads. “Therefore, the recommendation is for Council to determine the policy direction.”
The decision comes amid turbulent change to historic circuses, with activists decrying animal cruelty and waging legal battles to remove them from performances. In May 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus shut down operations after 146 years, citing an unsustainable business model, The New York Times reported in January 2017.
UniverSoul Circus, which touts a culture of “unity, inclusion and diversity,” made its “triumphant return” to Charlotte last August, according to a press release. PETA has staged multiple protests ahead of the group’s performances here, situating a “nude zebra” — a naked individual in zebra bodypaint — in uptown as an attack against UniverSoul’s use of zebras, elephants and other animals.
The city’s preliminary report is expected to be made public at the City Council’s next strategy session in February, when proposed changes to dog tethering will also be discussed.
Yet it is unclear what action, if any, council members may support in revamping circus regulations in Charlotte.
“We have to look at it from an enforcement perspective, and that’s what we’ll be briefed on,” City Council member Dimple Ajmera said in an interview Thursday. “I think banning bull hooks is a step in the right direction.”
A third recommendation to Jones entailed maintaining the status quo by continuing to enforce the federal Animal Welfare Act, according to the report prepared by the city’s Strategy and Budget Department.
State laws — which call for the protection and humane treatment of animals — may give Charlotte a loophole in banning bull hooks, said Corey Parton, an attorney who practices animal law.
“I think the ordinance that bans the mistreatment of animals could address the bull hook issue,” Parton, of Parton & Associates, said.
CHARLOTTE’S CURRENT REGULATIONS
Charlotte’s current ordinances dictate which businesses — such as zoological gardens, research labs and pet stores — can keep wild and exotic animals.
By Charlotte’s definition, a wild or exotic animal would “ordinarily be confined to a zoo,” “ordinarily be found in the wilderness of this or any other country,” or is a “species of animal not indigenous to the United States or to North America.” That means household pets, domestic farm animals and most fish in aquariums aren’t considered wild or exotic animals, according to Charlotte’s ordinance.
Christina Scaringe, general counsel at Animal Defenders International, said it would not be difficult for Charlotte to revise that language to specifically address circus performances.
“The city has already defined pretty clearly what a wild and exotic animal is and isn’t,” Scaringe said. “It doesn’t have to be a complicated written ordinance. Whether Charlotte is interested or not, there’s a strong community presence asking for this.”
BANS IN OTHER CITIES
Across Charlotte’s 20 national peer cities listed in the city’s report, four have regulations about circus animals, and three have prohibited circus animals. Three statewide bans — in California, Hawaii and New Jersey — have been enacted in recent years.
In North Carolina, Orange County has banned the display of wild or exotic animals — and Asheville’s ordinance includes tight restrictions on who can keep or exhibit them, according to Charlotte’s report.
“I really hate the idea of us being one of the last municipalities in our region to do the right thing,” City Council member Matt Newton said in an interview Thursday. “If Charlotte wants to be known as a city that is humane and places an abundance of emphasis on public safety, then bull hooks especially should be eliminated.”
Newton said he is also supportive of an “elimination of wild and exotic animals in traveling acts altogether.”
Kristen Moyer, a local activist, said that stiffer solution remedies both animal cruelty and public safety concerns, particularly if an animal were to escape or transmit an infectious disease.
As Moyer sees it, an ordinance change wouldn’t extend to a complete ban on circuses that often include Charlotte as a tour stop.
UniverSoul Circus, for example, recently scaled back its use of animals, instead putting a premium on human performances and acrobatics, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in February. The circus could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“Charlotte has a duty to do something here. We’re not asking to ban circuses,” Moyer said. “Circus like Garden Bros. and UniverSoul, it would be wonderful if they continue to come — without the wild animals.”
Read the original article by Alison Kuznitz at charlotteobserver.com here.