Worcester Councilor Lukes Calls Circuses Cruel + Moves To Ban Them
Friday, October 11, 2013
Lukes, an at-large Worcester City Councilor, is seeking to ban events such as the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, which rolled into town yesterday for performances through Monday at the DCU Center. If she gets her way, circuses that use lions and tigers and bears, for example, for entertainment purposes would be banned in Worcester.
Last month, the City Council's three-member Public Health and Human Services Committee, which Lukes chairs, voted unanimously voted to ask City Manager Mike O’Brien to review a model ordinance drafted by a national animal-advocacy group. The ordinance would prohibit the use of wild and exotic animals in traveling shows and circuses.
Lukes’ committee has made two other requests of the O’Brien administration, and is awaiting action of them: Draft a proposed ordinance, using the model ordinance as a resource; and develop protocol for overseeing the implementation and enforcement of such an ordinance, through the city's animal-control officers, Board of Health and Division of Inspectional Services. Her committee has also asked the City Manager’s Office to report back on how other American communities are dealing with this issue, and what the economic impact would be if circuses that use wild, endangered animals are banned in Worcester.
“The circus can come, and use horses, snakes or whatever other animals they think they need, to entertain people, and that aren’t going extinct,” Lukes tells GoLocalWorcester.
Ringling Brothers denies that it treats its animals in cruel ways. Instead the “The Greatest Show on Earth” maintains that, in addition to providing good entertainment value, it helps to educate the public about the plight of animals such as elephants that are wild and endangered.
Life in as natural an environment as possible
The "Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show On Earth" first toured America in 1888. As Ringling Brothers now reports, “There is no proof that one of the founders, Phineas Taylor Barnum, ever said, ‘There's a sucker born every minute.’ He did, however, say that ‘every crowd has a silver lining,’ and acknowledged that ‘the public is wiser than many imagine’.”
One of Barnum's biggest successes - literally - came in 1882 with his acquisition of Jumbo. Dubbed "The Towering Monarch of His Mighty Race, Whose Like the World Will Never See Again," Jumbo arrived in New York, attracting enormous crowds on his way to his name becoming a part of the language.
Ever since, wild, exotic animals and Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus have been both synonymous and ubiquitous in the American cultural landscape.
It’s the primary reason why animal-rights advocates target Ringling Brothers much more so than lesser-known circuses. One of them is Born Free USA, a national animal-advocacy organization that has produced the model ordinance that Lukes is eyeing in her effort to ban circuses from Worcester that use wild, endangered animals.
Born Free’s mission is “to end the suffering of wild animals in captivity, rescue individual animals in need, protect wildlife — including highly endangered species — in their natural habitats, and encourage compassionate conservation globally.” Born Free’s primary campaign areas include “animals used in entertainment, captive exotic animals, trapping and fur, and the international wildlife trade.”
The charitable, non-profit organization also operates the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary. The sanctuary offers more than 600 primates - many of whom were rescued from abusive situations in laboratories, roadside zoos, and private possession - life in as natural an environment as possible with minimal human interference.
Born Free’s model ordinance defines “wild or exotic animal” as any or all of the following orders and families, whether born in the wild or in captivity, and also any or all of their hybrids with domestic species:
All species of non-human primates and prosimians such as chimpanzees, baboons, monkeys, etc.
All species of Felidae such as lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, ocelots and servals - except domestic cats
All species of Canidae such as wolves and coyotes - except domestic dogs
All specifies of Ursidae such as bears
All species of Marsupialia such as kangaroos
All specifies of Proboscidae such as elephants
All species of Crocodilia such as crocodiles and alligators
All species of Squamata - snakes only
All species of Artiodactyla such as hippopotamuses, giraffes and camels - except domestic cattle, swine, sheep and goats
All specifies of Perissodactyla such as zebras, rhinos and tapirs) – except domestic horses, donkeys and mules
All specie of Struthioniformes such as ostriches
All species of Casuariiformes such as emus
And Born Free’s model city ordinance mandates the following:
It shall be unlawful for any person to conduct, sponsor, or operate a traveling show or circus that includes wild or exotic animals on any public or private land within the City.
Police officers, humane investigators, and the City’s animal-service officers shall have the power and authority to enforce the provisions of this chapter and perform all duties imposed by the provisions of this ordinance.
Any person, firm, or corporation violating this section shall be fined not more than $5,000 per animal or be imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
The provisions of this section shall not apply to: institutions accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association; and any wildlife sanctuary as defined under this ordinance.
Looking to send a message
With this in mind, Lukes says she’s looking to send a message. “Human beings have got to stop hastening the end or promoting the extinction of certain species,” she tells GoLocalWorcester. Asked whether she wants people to protect this weekend’s circus at the DCU Center, she responds, “I don’t want the circus to have these animals in it. How people express their opinion about it, is up to them.”
Lukes is comfortable with circuses using domesticated animals that are not endangered. “I mean, we grow chickens and cattle to consume, and they’re not going to go extinct,” she says. And she does not think that circuses such as Ringling Brothers help to raise public awareness of the plight of endangered wild animals.
What about Worcester’s EcoTarium, which displays wild, endangered animals? “That’s educational,” Lukes says. “Those animals don’t have to perform, and they’re put in an environment as close to their natural state as possible, given the restraints. So it’s not a situation where they’re trained and/or subjected to what people consider to be cruel treatment in order to learn tricks.”
Her primary concern, she says, is not the way in which these animals are treated once they are in the custody of a circus. Instead, she says, it’s to help prevent wild, endangered animals from becoming extinct because human beings have interfered with their natural state, which leads to their demise.
“What if somebody plucked you out of your natural environment,” Lukes asks, “forced you to live in an unnatural environment, and forced you to learn tricks that nature didn’t gear you up for?
Ambassadors of their species
Ringling Brothers views the primary purpose of Lukes’ proposed ordinance in a much different light. “The goal for this legislation is to ban us from playing there – pure and simple,” spokesman Stephen Payne tells GoLocalWorcester. It’s really patently unnecessary, because we are already subject to so many other laws, at the local, state and federal levels.”
Ringling Brothers trains local animal-control officials from around the country on what to look for, Payne reports, when a circus comes to their community. “We do this because we’re so proud of what we do,” he says. “We want these [local] inspectors to be able to go to other circuses and hold us up as the gold standard for the care provider, to everybody else [with a circus] who comes to a municipality.”
Speaking to Lukes’ concern about wild, endangered animals being held in captivity by circuses such as Ringling Brothers, Payne insists that “the vast, vast majority” of Ringling Brothers’ wild, endangered animals “were born captivity, and have been cared for and worked with humans their entire lives.” If these animals were “returned to the wild,” he says, “they would not survive.”
Payne doesn’t go as far as to call them domesticated. Instead, he refers to them as “trained but not tamed.”
He also asserts that circuses such as Ringling Brothers, while offering good entertainment, provide an important educational service by letting the public know of the existence of wild, endangered creatures such as elephants. “They really are ambassadors of their species,” he says. “Ringling Brothers is one of the few places where people can see an elephant, up close and personal.”
The only sort of ordinance that Ringling Brothers might back, according to Payne, is one that exempts circuses such as his, that are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “[We] are already, as a licensed exhibitor, required to meet these standards of care,” he says.
Absurd and defying logic
One of the key players on the other side of this debate, is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA protested against Ringling Brothers, in 2010, when that circus was last in town. And PETA filed a complaint against the Kelly Miller Circus, which performed earlier this year in Douglas, related to the circus company’s tour this spring of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.
In the complaint filed with the federal Department of Agriculture, PETA alleges that Kelly Miller violated the federal Animal Welfare Act. PETA charges that circus handlers were observed whipping several animals, including a baby zebra, forcefully striking a dog, tiger and baby goat on the face, and tethering animals too tightly. Kelly Miller has reportedly denied any wrongdoing.
Carney Anne Nasser is PETA’s counsel for captive-animal law enforcement. She argues that when wild animals such as elephants are confined for long periods of time and denied adequate space, exercise, socialization and other basic needs, they “become more prone to unpredictable and potentially dangerous behavior.”
Ordinances such as the one being considered in Worcester, Nasser says, do more than preserve the welfare of wild, endangered animals in captivity. They also preserve public safety, she says.
Furthermore, Nasser notes, Worcester’s proposed ordinance does not prohibit circuses. Ringling is owned by Feld Entertainment, she points out, which is the same company that presents Disney on Ice, Disney Live and Monster Trucks.
“If any company can present an animal-free circus that dazzles the spectators just as much, it would be Feld Entertainment,” she says. “They’re a $500-million-a-year company, so it’s absurd and defies logic for them to suggest that they can’t present a circus without elephants and tigers.”
One circus company that now stages animal-less shows, is Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars – formerly, Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus - which, according to PETA, “has a long history of repeatedly violating the Animal Welfare Act.” Cole Bros. operates circuses without animals in communities where it needs to comply with local ordinances or regulations that ban the use of wild or exotic animals in performances.
Referring to one such show with no animals, Nasser says, “Cole Bros. celebrated that performance as just as dazzling and just as amazing as the version that uses animals.”
Steven Jones-D'Agostino is chief pilot of Best Rate of Climb: Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media and Radio Production. Follow him on Twitter @SteveRDAgostino.
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