03 November 2011
Animal activists and celebrities launched a new effort Wednesday to protect exotic animals by taking the "traveling" out of traveling circuses.
The proposed federal legislation would place sharp limits on the ability to transport lions, tigers and elephants around the country. Circuses say it would essentially shut down the animal portion of their shows.
Representatives from L.A.-based Animal Defenders International and Northern California’s Performing Animal Welfare Society, along with critter-friendly celebrities Bob Barker and Jorja Fox, held a press conference in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to introduce the new bill that amends the Animal Welfare Act.
"It’s called the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, TEAPA for short," "CSI" star Fox explained earlier in the week. "It will severely limit the traveling of exotic wildlife."
Narrowly aimed at preventing maltreatment of non-domesticated animals in traveling circuses, the bill, among other things, proposes severe restrictions on moving wildlife around the country in restrictive mobile accommodations.
They claim animals suffer by being denied sufficient space to move around when traveling, and are forced to deal with unnatural groupings, such as incompatible species being kept near each other.
The bill does not address stationary zoos or other permanently sited animal attractions, animals used in film and television productions, domesticated species such as horses moved for rodeo or racing purposes, or circus horses.
Circus operators, of course, have issues with the proposed legislation.
"Ringling Bros. as well as other licensed, traveling exhibitors are inspected by federal, state and local authorities," said Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, which produces the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. "This bill doesn’t do anything to improve animal care. We’re the experts on taking care of our animals; we’ve been doing it for over 140 years."
"We’ve looked at the way that the USDA has tried to inspect and license traveling circuses," noted ADI President Jan Creamer. "The license fees that they charge only amount to about 13 percent of the cost of an inspection, so actually the taxpayer is paying for most of the cost of those inspections."
While Creamer is convinced that the bill will stop traveling wild animal shows in their tracks, Representative Jim Moran (D-Va.), the bill’s principal sponsor and chairman of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, suggested that circuses could conceivably avoid federal legislation.
"Right now, the situation is such that we feel the only way to address it is to restrict the traveling circuses," Moran said. "If the circuses want to show us how the more egregious and unjustifiable conditions can be resolved, we would certainly be amenable to discussing that."
Payne countered that Moran rebuffed several earlier offers from Feld, whose corporate headquarters is in the congressman’s district, to meet with Ringling representatives who could explain the circus’ animal care policies.
Creamer said ADI has helped get similar legislation passed in a number of European and Latin American countries. She also noted that approximately 30 U.S. municipalities have enacted full or partial bans on animal use in circuses.
"The human-only circuses tend to thrive in places where animal acts have been banned," Creamer claimed. "You get more jobs for people, and all of the workers who look after circus animals on a day-to-day basis also do other jobs."
"That’s patently absurd," Payne said, noting Ringling has 24/7 animal care and veterinary staffs. "If we are not able to present this vital part of The Greatest Show on Earth, really, it would have a dramatic economic impact."
According to Creamer’s estimate, some 300 animals in 20 to 25 traveling circuses will benefit if the bill passes.
Not insignificant, but is it enough to satisfy animal rights advocates?
"If this were the last bill that ever got crafted to protect wild, exotic animals, I would be disappointed," Fox said. "But I think it’s a really realistic start."