Due to public concern, overwhelming video footage, testimony and written evidence showing the suffering of performing circus elephants, the Los Angeles City Council is discussing an ordinance restricting their use in traveling circuses. The purpose of this ordinance is to provide as much protection possible for these exotic animals. Of the City Council's three options, Animal Defenders International is recommending support for and end to the use of elephants in traveling shows altogether, or a combined measure to both restrict elephants from traveling shows as well as ban the use of bullhooks and other tools capable of inflicting pain.
The use of wild and exotic animals in traveling circuses is now globally viewed as inhumane. There are over thirty local ordinances across the U.S. prohibiting or restricting the use of these animals in traveling shows; over 20 countries around the world have similar national legislation and hundreds of local ordinances of this kind are now in place in towns and cities around the world.
The reason for these sweeping changes is that years of studies have shown that in circumstances where these animals are constantly traveling, living in barren environments in small accommodations that must be necessarily lightweight and easily transported, it is simply not possible to provide them with the environment they need to maintain physical and psychological health. The abnormal behaviors observed so commonly in these animals indicates that they are not coping with their environment.
Although it is clear that these animals suffer from brutal training methods, it is often not recognized that the restriction of movement can cause even greater suffering. At a recent elephant-cruelty trial, evidence provided by Professor Donald Broom of Cambridge University and the elephant's previous vet was that the constant chaining by two legs caused suffering, and in Professor Broom's view, these conditions caused her to suffer more than the beatings.
It is problems associated with the restriction of movement and inability of the animal to interact normally in its environment that are particular to the traveling circus. The concrete and asphalt parking lots of the Staples Center and Shrine Auditorium are not suitable habitats for any wild animals and certainly not elephants.
While decreased public attendance has encouraged circuses like Vargas to replace their animals, there would be few if any laws protecting animals or the people who are vulnerable in our society if this were only ever left to market forces. The people have made their wishes known; it is through the support of the people of Los Angeles that this issue was brought to the City Council's attention.
It is therefore compassionate, responsible and proportionate for the City of Los Angeles to consider restrictions on the use of animals such as elephants in traveling shows. We would submit that such a restriction should logically apply to all wild species including elephants, lions, tigers, and bears as their fundamental wild nature has not been modified by humans, causing greater conflict with handlers and increasing levels of abuse.
However, an elephant restriction is a positive step in the right direction and addresses an area of great concern.
PAW Committee Chairman CM Koretz has laid three options before the City Council:
(a) End the use of elephants in traveling shows and exhibitions.
(b) A prohibition in any public-performance related context the use of bullhooks (aka guides or ankuses) and other tools capable of inflicting pain, in a public-performance context.
(c) A combined prohibition on the use of elephants in traveling shows, together with a ban on the use of bullhooks and other tools capable of inflicting pain.
Animal Defenders International is recommending support for options (a) and (c), as they offer the greatest protection for elephants by ending their use in traveling shows and exhibitions within the City. Option (b), the ban on the use of bullhooks and other weapons, addresses part of the problem, but does not deal with the issue of keeping animals constantly chained and confined in small spaces, on hard surfaces, at inappropriate facilities such as parking lots. By addressing just elephant protection this measure already has a very narrow focus; therefore it is important that the option chosen by the City is as effective as possible.
An end to elephant use does not prevent traveling circuses coming to Los Angeles; shows can be adapted. Like all American businesses, circuses must change with the times to stay relevant and profitable and human-only shows are thriving. Cirque du Soleil, for example, has shown there is an expanding market for traditional human circus performance. Cirque's touring show "Ovo" extended L.A. performances with 18 additional dates to meet demand. Cirque's permanent L.A. show "Iris" ran for over a year. Worldwide, 8 Cirque shows landed in the Top 50 Highest Earning World Tours in 2012.
This is an important issue because these animals suffer behind the scenes, every day that they are brought to Los Angeles. It is the right time for this to be addressed, and taking the most straightforward and effective solution now will save the City Council's time in the long term.
Animal Defenders International