New bill to target treatment of circus animals in traveling shows

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Lions, tigers and elephants — staples of the American circus for more than a century — would be banned from the big top under new legislation proposed by House Democrats.

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, is teaming up with Animal Defenders International and other activists to bar “exotic animals” from traveling shows, citing treatment during life on the road, which they denounce as inhumane.

Proponents are also pushing the measure as an economic shot in the arm, since famous acts such as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey would, in theory, hire more humans for acts to make up for the lack of beasts in their shows.

“The nature of traveling circuses restricts [animals’] environment and their exercise to such an extent that it causes them an enormous amount of stress,” ADI President Jan Creamer said. “They have long, arduous journeys across the United States … the animals are under stress because of the travel, but also because of the unnatural living conditions.”

A congressional ban on exotic animals, previous attempts at which have failed, wouldn’t apply to “static shows,” such as Las Vegas or Atlantic City, N.J., performances, because the animals aren’t required to move from coast to coast.

Animal rights groups have long protested the use of Asian elephants and other creatures for entertainment purposes, but some believe that, with the nation facing unprecedented economic turmoil, this is hardly the time to single out the circus.

“It’s completely absurd,” said Stephen Payne, a Ringling Bros. spokesman. “We have over a century of experience working with animals of all types. Their care and well-being is one of our top priorities. Legislation like this, to a certain extent, is insulting.”

Mr. Payne would not reveal how much revenue his company’s circuses rake in each year, but said that “millions and millions of dollars” in economic activity are generated each year by the shows. In addition to supporting its own employees, he said Ringling Bros. also supports local businesses, which sell hay and other products to the circus during its 80-city tour each year.

Ringling Bros.‘ parent company, Feld Entertainment, is headquartered at Tysons Corner, which lies within Mr. Moran’s Northern Virginia district.

“If this bill passes, he could potentially put some of his own constituents out of jobs” by further regulating the circus industry, Mr. Payne said, because the company employs people specifically to work with exotic animals.

With Ringling Bros. and other companies eager to fight the measure, ADI and congressional Democrats have decided to fight entertainment with entertainers.

On Wednesday morning, they will hold a news conference on Capitol Hill with famous animal rights activists Bob Barker, the former host of the long-running game show “The Price Is Right,” and actress Jorja Fox, who stars in CBS’ hit drama “CSI.”

Mr. Moran and other Democrats reject the notion that they are wasting time with the effort.

“While the 12-person supercommittee holds closed-door discussions, the work of the remaining 523 members [of the] U.S. Congress should not grind to a halt,” Mr. Moran told The Washington Times on Tuesday. “The mistreatment of exotic animals in traveling circuses deserves attention. It’s wrong how these animals are being exploited and we’re trying to put a stop to it.”

The use of circus animals is banned in 34 cities in 17 states, according to ADI. The organization also has helped implement bans in Peru, Bolivia and other countries.

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