Boston activists push ban on animal shows

Read the original article by Christian M. Wade at here.

Animal welfare activists called on lawmakers Tuesday to ban the use of elephants, big cats and other exotic animals in traveling circus shows.

A proposal filed by Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, would outlaw the animals from traveling circuses and other performances, and slap hefty fines on violators. The bill, which has more than 80 co-sponsors, was heard Tuesday by the Legislature’s Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.

Speaking at a rally outside the Statehouse, activists said performing elephants, tigers and other circus animals are subjected to cruel treatment.

“Wild animals in traveling shows live a dismal life of domination, confinement and violent training,” said Laura Hagen, state director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Humane Society, one of several groups backing the proposal. “It is standard practice to beat, whip and shock them to make them perform ridiculous tricks.”

The ban would target lions, tigers and other big cats, primates, elephants, rhinos, hippopotamuses, giraffes, bears, hyenas and alligators. Fines for violators would range from $500 to $10,000 per animal.

Ehrlich, who previously sought to ban the use of a sharp-edged tool called a bullhook to train elephants, said using exotic animals for entertainment sets a bad example.

“Watching wild animals perform unnatural tricks, like standing on their heads or jumping through flaming hoops, does not teach our children respect or appreciation for animals or how they behave in the wild,” she told the committee. “Instead, it teaches our children that it is acceptable to exploit and mistreat animals for amusement and profit.”

Efforts to ban animal shows are opposed by the outdoor entertainment industry, which says performing animals are well cared for and often live longer than animals in zoos. They say animal welfare groups distort the truth about the animals’ treatment.

The proposal exempts permanent animal shows, where animals are not traveling.

At least 22 states restrict circus animal performances and methods used to train and control them, though none impose outright bans.

Major cities such as Los Angeles have bans on animal performances, public contact with animals and acts such as elephant rides. In Massachusetts, communities such as Cambridge, Revere and Pittsfield have imposed local bans on traveling circuses and other exotic animal shows.

This spring, voters at Topsfield’s Town Meeting adopted a similar ban, effectively ending the popular elephant and camel rides that were long a fixture of the Topsfield Fair. Livestock and other farm animals continue to be exhibited at the fair, which held its 201st installment earlier this month.

In 2017, Feld Entertainment announced plans to permanently close Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, a staple of entertainment for nearly 146 years. The owners, who had already planned to retire the elephants, cited slumping ticket sales, rising costs and strict animal welfare regulations for bringing down the curtain.

Animal welfare groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, say public support for performing animals has declined in recent years following allegations of abuse and mistreatment.

Activists say the death last month of Beulah, an elephant that performed for the Big E Fair in West Springfield, has boosted efforts to approve the ban.

“Beulah’s death shines a spotlight on the industry of traveling shows and performing acts,” Elizabeth Magner, animal advocacy specialist at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told supporters at the rally Tuesday.

“Despite the evidence that these acts inflict significant suffering on animals and put public health at risk, such shows still perform every year in the commonwealth.

We need to put a stop to this cruel practice,” she said.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. 

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