The city council of the nation’s second largest city – and the capital of the entertainment industry – today unanimously voted to ban the exhibition of wild or exotic animals for entertainment, including circuses, other wild animal shows, displays in public areas such as on sidewalks or parks, and rentals for house parties or events. Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu sponsored the measure, which won the support of all the council members, and HSUS National Council member Cheri Shankar and the Performing Animal Welfare Society led the external effort to pass it. This reform substantially builds on a 2014 policy banning the use of bullhooks to handle captive elephants that was instrumental in causing Ringling Bros. to no longer use elephants in their shows.
This is not the final step, but it sets the 15-member city council on a very clear path to enact this forward-looking policy in the weeks ahead.
Los Angeles was the site of an HSUS event this past Saturday night, with a roster of notables, including Pharrell Williams, Diane Keaton, James Caan, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, and a cadre of local and state elected officials in California. It was especially fitting and appropriate for the Los Angeles City Council to take action so quickly after this stirring event and to cement its place among America’s most humane cities.
Other cities that have passed similar bans in recent years include the city of San Francisco, and several counties in Idaho, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina. But Los Angeles is by far the largest jurisdiction to enact such a ban.
Just a few years ago, Los Angeles banned the use of bullhooks for elephants, and there was a a spirited fight. But with Ringling earlier this year announcing it was shutting down its entire circus –which featured lion and tiger acts, among other wild animals on exhibition – the circus industry lost its biggest political protector. Today lawmakers approved the ban with little dissent, demonstrating how public attitudes are shifting dramatically in favor of animal protection and the lobbying force of the circus industry is now negligible.
A 2015 Gallup poll found that 69 percent of Americans are concerned about the use of wild animals in circuses and according to a November 2016 article in Forbes magazine, circus attendance in the United States has dropped an estimated 30 to 50 percent over the last 20 years. Gross revenue from circuses fell almost nine percent between 2007 and 2012.
People now understand much more clearly the physical and behavioral needs of elephants, tigers, lions, and other wild animals, and it’s painfully obvious that circuses cannot meet those needs with their constant chaining, caging, and travel schedules. Trained with pain and the fear of punishment, caged and chained in trucks and trailers, forced to endure months of grueling travel, and bullied to perform silly tricks, animals in circuses and other traveling displays are victims and not willing performers.
These spectacles are dangerous for animals and even occasionally for people. Just in the last few years, a tiger knocked down and dragged a trainer across a pen as she screamed for help at a Pensacola, Florida, fair during a performance for a children’s field trip. The tiger was beaten and the trainer required surgery for her injuries. During a photo shoot in Detroit, Michigan, a tiger got loose in a building and trainers used an electric weed whacker to get the animal out of a stairwell and eventually back into a cage. Three elephants performing at a Shrine Circus in St. Charles, Missouri, ran amok in a parking lot for 45 minutes, damaging multiple vehicles. At another Shrine Circus in Salina, Kansas, a tiger escaped during a performance and a woman narrowly escaped harm after coming face to face with the tiger in an arena restroom.
The era of wild animal acts in circuses and even in movies and television is waning. New forms of entertainment and technology will replace them, and the only question we’ll ask is, why did it take so long? Thanks to the City of Angels for helping show the way.