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A Law That Could Close the Curtains on Circuses - Sierra Daily
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Sierra Daily

Nov 15, 2011

A Law That Could Close the Curtains on Circuses

Circus elephantIn the animated intro to the Ringling Bros. website, a bullet train zooms through lush hillsides, powdery peaks, and a squeaky clean city. When it finally stops, the excited animals all jump out. They seem to be yelping, “Give us air!” The train looks tiny next to them. How did the tiger, the elephant, the unicorn-like horse, the woman in the silver swimsuit, and the other tiger all fit in there? It must have been a cramped ride!

As it turns out, Congress is wondering if the cagey conditions on that Adobe Flash train are similar those on the real Ringling caravan. On Nov. 2, Virginia representative Jim Moran introduced the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act (TEAPA), which would prohibit animals from performing if they had been traveling in a mobile housing facility 15 days prior to the performance. Essentially, it would restrict the use of animals in circuses.

The bill has Ringling Bros. infuriated. The company says the proposed law is “baseless” and would “destroy the jobs of more than 750 full-time employees that work for the circus.”

“For the most part,” says Ringling's website, “our animals spend more than half of the day eating, sleeping and socializing with other animals.” Sounds like a retirement home — can't you just see Mr. Elephant and Ms. Alpaca immersed in a game of mahjong?

Problem is, most of them die before they even reach senior status. The last two decades have seen a slew of premature circus-elephant deaths. Often, the cause of death is unknown, but biologists and zookeepers think obesity and stress could be to blame. Rep. Moran believes the animals need more out-of-cage time, and that their human caregivers should play nicer. His bill cites evidence of “extreme physical coercion techniques, including the restriction of food, the use of elephant hooks, electric shocks, metal bars, whips, and other forms of physical abuse.” (An elephant hook, also known as an “ankus” or a “goad,” is metal prod that trainers use to stick elephants and hook them behind the ears, where their hide is thin as paper.)

The bill also takes human safety into account, stating that “the use of collapsible, temporary facilities in traveling circuses increases the risk of escaping exotic and non-domesticated animals seriously harming workers and the public.”

Rep. Moran was flanked by activists from Animal Defenders International, actress Jorjia Fox of 24, and Bob Barker, who's been vegetarian since 1979 and is a multimillion-dollar contributor to animal causes. Barker sees the bill as an overdue and significant step toward animal rights: “Elephants living in chains and being beaten, lions and tigers in small cages on trucks being whipped to perform tricks, it’s the Dark Ages. This bill helps bring us out of the Dark Ages.”

--Jake Abrahamson

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