The movement to end the use of wild animals in circuses secured its biggest win yet, with New Jersey lawmakers, in the waning days of their lame duck session, voting nearly unanimously yesterday to ban almost all wild animal acts in the Garden State. Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and Sen. Raymond Lesniak sponsored the bill that would make New Jersey the first state in the nation to enact such a ban. It passed the Assembly by a vote of 66-2 with two abstentions, and the Senate by a vote of 31-0.
The coalition of animal protection groups that pushed for this bill, including The HSUS, is optimistic that Gov. Chris Christie, who will end his second term in days and turn over the chief executive’s post to Governor-elect Phil Murphy, will sign the bill. An extraordinary champion of animal issues who caps his 40-year state legislative career with this victory, Sen. Lesniak dubbed the bill Nosey’s law, after an arthritic elephant carted around the nation for years and subjected to unending misery and privation.
In 2016, California and Rhode Island became the first states to ban the bullhook, a cruel elephant training tool. In 2017, Illinois and New York became the first states to ban the use of elephants in traveling shows. And now New Jersey has rung in 2018 by becoming the first state to pass an outright ban on most traveling wild animal acts – elephants, lions, tigers, primates, and all manner of other creatures who, for a century and a half, have been conscripted to do silly stunts in three-ring circuses.
With Ringling Bros. shuttering its operations in May 2017, legislation to restrict the use of wild animals in circuses has started to ricochet across the nation. The goal of stopping the use of wild animals in entertainment — an idea that the iconic circus company had so successfully resisted for years — is now being widely embraced across the country. In addition to state laws, numerous cities and counties, including New York City, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Pittsburgh; Portland and Bar Harbor (Maine), and Montgomery County (Maryland), have all recently passed various restrictions on wild animal acts, joining more than 135 communities in 37 states. The idea that wild animal acts no longer have a place in our society has moved from the margins into the mainstream, and reform efforts are springing up everywhere.
Elephants and other wild animals used in traveling shows are subjected to violent and inhumane training and prolonged confinement as they are hauled from city to city. They are often chained, tethered, or caged, and typically denied medical care or even clean food and water.
Last year, The HSUS conducted an undercover investigation of a tiger act that performs for Shrine Circuses. We found that the eight tigers featured in the act were trained and handled through the violent use of whips and sticks, forced to perform tricks that could lead to physical ailments, left in cramped transport cages when not performing, and fed an inappropriate diet. The tigers exhibited classic signs of fear and behavioral stress. They squinted, flinched, flattened their ears back, sat with hunched shoulders, snarled, cowered, moaned in distress, and swatted at Ryan Easley, the trainer, and the abusive training tools he used.
Last year, a tiger being transported by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus escaped from a trailer while traveling through Georgia. The tiger was shot and killed by police as she roamed a residential neighborhood. And an elephant performing at Circus World in Wisconsin escaped from a barn and wandered through nearby backyards. In both cases, the circuses were unaware that the animals had escaped.
Italy and Scotland recently joined so many other nations in banning all wild animal acts. And major entertainment hubs, such as Las Vegas, have largely gotten away from wild animal acts in favor of human acrobatics and theatrics, so well represented by Cirque du Soleil.
With additional focus and determination from The HSUS and other advocates throughout the nation, we can fortify the national legal framework against wild animal acts and close out a 150-year era of treating wild animals as props in frivolous spectacles where we ignore the backstory of animal suffering and torment.
P.S. New Jersey residents can call Governor Christie at 609-292-6000 or email him, and urge him to sign the bill. Several states, including Maryland and Massachusetts, are looking to pass legislation to address this issue. To get involved in your community to help, and to get our circus toolkit, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.