Today New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law a bill that prohibits the use of elephants in circuses, just months after New York City outlawed the use of wild animals in circus acts. In June, the state assembly and senate passed S.2098b/A.464b, sponsored by state Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown, and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale. With the governor’s signature, the law takes effect in two years.
“The use of elephants in these types of settings is dangerous to their health and potentially abusive,” Gov. Cuomo said today in a statement that accompanied his bill signing. “The Elephant Protection Act furthers this administration’s efforts to fight animal cruelty, and create a stronger, more humane New York.”
These are powerful words from a big-state governor – ones that few politicians, even a few years ago, would have confidently uttered in public. The policy advances in the Empire state and New York City are just the latest indicators that 2017 has been a turning point in the decades-long campaign to end the use of elephants in traveling acts. Just weeks ago, Illinois became the first state in the nation to adopt such a policy, after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill similar to New York’s.
Los Angeles was the first major city to outlaw the use of elephants and other wild animals in circuses in 2017, and with New York City and San Francisco also prohibiting these wild animal acts, some of the nation’s biggest cities have said they want nothing to do with animal-based circuses. By shrinking the markets for animal-based circuses, lawmakers and animal advocates have sent an unmistakable signal that the business model must change. The show cannot go on as it once did.
The HSUS and other animal protection groups have campaigned for decades to end wild animal acts, but until 2016, progress was halting and episodic. In 2016, Ringling Bros. said it would end its use of elephants, and then the dam burst on the issue. In May of this year, Ringling – the political protector of the use of wild animals in circuses – shuttered its operation entirely, after 146 years in business and long after that circus became a cultural touchstone in our nation.
The extraordinary movement on this issue is a marker of the larger progress in our movement. People understand that wild animals should not be transported from city to city for silly stunts, and they should not be subjected to often harsh and inhumane training techniques. With Cirque du Soleil and other circuses that feature human performers instead of animal acts, customers have options for fabulous entertainment experiences. And with undercover investigations and other exposes throwing light onto cruelty and privation happening in transport or behind the curtains, there was no longer any denying that some circuses had animal cruelty built into their business model.
The treatment of animals in circuses became an issue that serious-minded people needed to address. As they did, politicians and even the biggest of all circuses recognized that they must act. The set of gains we’ve seen has been long overdue, but the outcomes are worth celebrating. There are shifting standards in society when it comes to our use of animals, and the treatment that animals endure in circuses simply doesn’t meet our modern-day moral test.