29 Apr

Animalia: Want to see the circus? Los Angeles says you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Hello, and happy weekend. Three years ago, Los Angeles banned the use of elephant bullhooks within city limits. Bullhooks are heavy metal tools that resemble fire pokers and are used to train and guide elephants, and Los Angeles at the time was joining a growing number of large municipalities to prohibit them. Those moves, which …
On animals, people and the world they share
A trainer for Ringling Bros. with the elephants at one of their final shows. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post) Hello, and happy weekend. Three years ago, Los Angeles banned the use of elephant bullhooks within city limits. Bullhooks are heavy metal tools that resemble fire pokers and are used to train and guide elephants, and Los Angeles at the time was joining a growing number of large municipalities to prohibit them. Those moves, which were long championed by animal rights groups, made it much harder for Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey to bring its famous elephants to town, and they eventually resulted in the circus’s decision to retire the animals. The Ringling elephants’ retirement, in turn, drove Feld Entertainment Inc., Ringling’s parent company, to announce earlier this year that it would completely fold its tent in May. This was a stunning turn of events for the biggest and most storied player in American circuses — and it reflected a real shift in mood among the public about shows that feature animals. This week, Los Angeles again signaled its distaste for animal performances, becoming the largest U.S. jurisdiction to move to ban all displays or performances by wild and exotic animals. In a unanimous vote, the city council on Tuesday ordered the drafting of an ordinance that would prohibit not only circuses within city limits, but also exhibits like sidewalk snake handlers and rentals of animals at house parties (which, apparently, is a thing). Accredited zoos and basic petting zoos would be exempted, and — Los Angeles being home to Hollywood — animals in “legitimate film productions” would get a pass, too.
San Francisco already has such a ban, and New York City is considering one. Some members of Congress have proposed a federal ban, though that’s unlikely to succeed any time soon. But given that Ringling, the heavyweight in this industry, will no longer be actively lobbying against these sorts of measures, you can expect to see more passing around the country. In other words: If you want to see tiger tricks or elephant acrobatics, which about 19 traveling circuses offer some version of, you’d probably better do it soon. “The times are changing,” reads a fact sheet on the topic distributed by L.A. city council member David Ryu, who sponsored the motion. “Public safety and animal welfare are at great risk when wild or exotic animals are used for entertainment. The public, particularly children, also learn the wrong lessons about wild or exotic animals.” On a related topic, I’ve got a question: What’s your view on the well-being of animals at zoos and aquariums? Do you feel differently about visiting these establishments than you did as a child? Do you think they’re more crucial than ever for teaching people to appreciate and help conserve animals, or are they outdated in an era of  high-quality, high-definition wildlife programming on television? I ask because I’m on a panel early next month at a conference of zoo and aquarium leaders, and this — the public perception of the welfare of animals at those places — is the topic. I’d love to be able to share some of your feedback. Email me your thoughts, please, at karin.brulliard@washpost.com. If you’ve been forwarded this newsletter and want to subscribe, do so here: http://wapo.st/2aWJmjU
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