Following the lead of Los Angeles – which took the same action two months ago – the New York City Council, the lawmaking body for the City of New York’s eight million residents, voted today to ban wild animal acts in circuses (after a one-year phase-in). The New York City Council embraced the policy in a commanding vote of 43 to 6, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, a staunch animal advocate, says he looks forward to signing this legislation.
The council’s policy provides more evidence of the startling turnaround on this category of animal use since March 2015, when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced it would end the use of elephants in circus acts. The famed circus had been the political protector of animal-based circuses, but relinquished that role when it started to unwind its animal acts. Ringling Bros. shuttered the circus last month, after 146 years of performances in the United States.
New York City Council Member Rosie Mendez spearheaded the push for 1233-A. She fought this battle for 11 years, and this year she got a major assist from Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson. The HSUS and the newly formed Empire State Humane Voters led the charge for the bill from the outside. Both groups had the support of a large coalition of animal protection organizations and grassroots advocates.
“This legislation will ensure that animals are in their natural state, not confined in small boxcars and/or treated in other inhumane ways. Equally important, human beings will be safe from animals that may act ferociously,” Councilwoman Mendez said after the vote.
While Ringling is out of the business, there are a number of smaller traveling circuses that often lease the use of elephants, tigers, and other animals in these moving menageries. Last month,The HSUS conducted an undercover investigation of a tiger trainer who rents out his circus act to a number of traveling circuses, providing a clear look at the coercive training techniques that cause these majestic animals to cower and moan, their frequent intensive confinement, and the grueling travel they typically endure. Lawmakers and the public have come to see that these animals are victims, not willing performers.
The momentum on this front continues. On June 6, the New York state legislature passed the Elephant Protection Act, which would prohibit the use of elephants in traveling shows. Gov. Andrew Cuomo can sign it soon. A similar bill in Illinois awaits Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature. Recently, legislation also passed in cities and/or counties in Idaho, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, and Ohio. Four states and more than 125 localities in 34 states have passed restrictions or prohibitions on the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows. “We now know more about the proper treatment of wild and exotic animals than we did in the past. Entertainment alone is not an excuse to put these animals through more than they ever should have to endure,” added Council Member Corey Johnson.
In the wake of New York City’s vote, we will continue to see the adoption of policies to forbid wild animal acts. Meanwhile, more people interested in acrobatics and other forms of arena entertainment can buy tickets for Cirque du Soleil and other enterprises using talented and willing human performers. There, you can experience the pleasure of awe-inspiring performances and know that you’ve not sustained an ounce of animal cruelty in the process.