When the Ringling Bros. circus was founded, Ulysses S. Grant was president and the South was in the middle of Reconstruction. The storied act will sadly come to an end in May. Ringling, after years of harassment from animal rights activists, announced it can’t keep the show running.
The blow to family activities doesn’t stop there. Activists are already plotting to make zoos history as well.
Ringling’s demise can be traced to its decision two years ago to stop having elephants in its shows. This move, which came after years of protests, litigation and lobbying campaigns from animal rights activists, caused a reduction in ticket sales since the main, four-ton attractions were gone. The show could not go on.
Circus protests, however, were never about the circus. They were about the fact that animals are kept in captivity. Animal activists are now turning their sights toward zoos. Their multi-faceted attack is starting with litigation.
Animal rights groups have threatened lawsuits against small facilities under the Endangered Species Act, which forbids “harming” endangered species. Their theory is that it’s a form of psychological “harm” to have animals in a pen. Other recent lawsuits have tried to free chimpanzees under habeas corpus, a tactic used by anti-slavery activists centuries ago.
Of course, you could give a tiger the equivalent of a five-star resort with a personal masseuse and an endless supply of gazelle tenderloin, and animal rights activists would still claim cruelty. PETA refers to zoos as “prisons.”
Animal rights activism also has a human cost. Thousands of jobs are tied to zoos and aquariums, from caretakers to wildlife biologists. Some zoos and aquariums are also big draws to downtown areas and vital cogs in a local economy. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums calculates that these facilities contribute $17.4 billion to the economy.
Ringling may have to lay off 400 employees who worked on the circus. Ironically, the “humane” activists haven’t uttered a peep about any of these people and the impact on their families.
How can we save zoos from activist lawyers? One, if you give to animal charities make sure you’re not accidentally funding a radical group with a nice-sounding name, such as the deceptive Humane Society of the United States.
Two, Congress needs to reform certain provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Congress could clarify that it’s not illegal for animals to be kept in ways that are generally accepted by veterinarians. Or it could reform the private right to sue that exists under the law.
Zoos and aquariums have spent decades and millions of dollars to rehabilitate animal populations and educate the public about conservation. If we don’t take ideological activists seriously, it could be the zoos that go extinct.
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