Animal-free circuses good for them and for us
OpEd article in THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: September 18, 2004)
(The writer is spokesperson for Animal Defenders of
Two years ago, The Journal News reported on our
successful effort to get an ordinance in the Town of Greenburgh that would
restrict traveling animal acts on public property ("Send back the clowns,"
May 23, 2002). In the next few weeks we will be meeting with Westchester
County legislators and the parks commissioner with the intention of
installing this ordinance countywide.
In the last few years alone, several animal act-related
incidents that jeopardize public safety have occurred, most notably:
• The mauling of Roy Horn, of Seigfried and Roy, when a
tiger he'd worked with several times bit his throat and dragged him off
stage in Las Vegas. Other Seigfried and Roy trainers then revealed several
instances of tiger attacks during "training." Horn remains under a doctor's
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the request of
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, launched an investigation of
Liebel Family Circus after PETA reported that an elephant injured a circus
• An elephant escaped the ring at a Royal Hanneford
Circus performance in Poughkeepsie in 1999, charging into several rows of
• On July 31, 2002, a tiger escaped from the New Cole
Brothers Circus in Queens, causing two collisions involving five cars,
resulting in minor injuries to five people.
An attorney has served Westchester County with a
"Notice of dangerous condition of action." This legal notice, similar to a
pothole notice, establishes Westchester's liability if it grants a permit to
"a traveling show of wild animals including tigers, bears and elephants,
which pose serious dangers such as mauling, goring, impaling and trampling
to the public and performers, leading to property damage, serious injuries
and/or death; in addition, emotional and psychological distress from
witnessing said actions, other health risks include the possibility of
contracting diseases such as tuberculosis from the animals."
What that means to Westchester County is this: If
animal act-related lawsuits pour in, property taxes may be negatively
affected. Is it worth it for an hour of supposed "fun"?
Our concern isn't just for public safety: In nature,
bears don't ride bicycles, elephants don't stand on their heads, and a tiger
would never hop on his hind legs. To force wild animals to perform confusing
acts, trainers use whips, muzzles, electric prods and
bullhooks. In their real homes, these animals would be free to raise their
families, forage for food, and play together. Instead, the circus forces
them to perform night after night, for 48 to 50 weeks every year. Between
acts, elephants are kept chained, and tigers are "stored" in cages with
barely enough room to take one step.
Ringling has also invented a "unicorn" by mutilating a
baby goat — surgically moving his horns to the center of his forehead.
In the circus arena, elephants perform such acts
because they are forced to; trainers carry bullhooks with them to direct the
elephants and make them do what is required. Such hooks are harmful, but
often are designed so they cannot be seen by circus-goers. Does an elephant
stand on her head for a peanut? Would you?
The Journal News, on Aug. 2, reported on the audience's
enjoyment and appreciation of the animal-free Moscow State Circus in
Dangerous, archaic, abusive traveling animal acts have
no place in a progressive, dynamic and enlightened Westchester; indeed, they
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