Big-Top Ban: New Bill Seeks to Put End to Animal Circuses

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Courtesy of ADI

Three elephants chained behind the rope at Ringling Bros. Circus

On Wednesday, former Price Is Right host and animal activist Bob Barker appeared on Capitol Hill alongside Virginia Representative James P. Moran, CSI actress Jorja Fox and animal rights groups to show support for new legislation that would ban exotic animals from traveling circuses.

The proposed Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, which was introduced in Congress on Wednesday by Rep. Moran, would amend the Animal Welfare Act to restrict the use of non-domesticated animals, such as Asian elephants, lions, bears and tigers, in traveling circuses and exhibitions — lives in which animals are often subjected to a number of hardships, according to animal rights advocates.

“Americans are becoming increasingly aware that circus animals suffer from violent training techniques and severe confinement,” Barker said in a statement regarding the legislation. “Big, wild animals should not be part of the traveling circus and simply put, animal acts in circuses are antiquated and belong in the past, in a time when humans were ignorant about the needs of the other species who share our planet.”

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Animal Defenders International (ADI) and the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) have gathered substantial evidence of animal abuse in circuses, which was included in the legislation’s findings. In documents issued to NewsFeed, ADI states that the welfare of these exotic animals are compromised by their severe confinement, lack of exercise, limited space and coercive training techniques. Not to mention that the animals can become stressed and ill from the constant travel, where they often remain in their trailers for much longer than the length of the journey.

The plight of circus animals has been well-documented over the years by media organizations, advocacy groups and even in books and movies (remember Water for Elephants?). Most recently, Mother Jones published a lengthy exposé following a year-long investigation into Ringling Bros. Circus, where author Deborah Nelson outlines harrowing tales of abuse, along with details on how federal regulations are failing the animals.

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As for the other side of the issue, statements show that representatives think the proposed legislation is just, well, a circus.

“It’s completely absurd,” Stephen Payne, a Ringling Bros. spokesman, told the Washington Times. “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.”

While animal circuses remain popular in the United States — Ringling Bros. annual revenues are estimated between $500 million and $1 billion, according to Mother Jones — many countries around the world have already banned exotic animals from traveling circuses in recent years. Will the U.S. be next?

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