Hawaii leads with a historic decision to ban tigers, elephants and other wild animals in traveling circuses
In a landmark decision this week, Hawaii has moved to ban dangerous wild animals, including tigers, lions, bears, primates, elephants and crocodiles, from being brought into the state to perform in circuses, carnivals and other public exhibitions. This regulation, approved by the Hawaii Board of Agriculture by a 6-3 vote, resulted from a legal petition filed by the Humane Society of the United States in 2014. If signed by Gov. David Ige, it would put Hawaii ahead of other U.S. states that have sought to restrict the use of wild animals in circuses, but have done so in a more limited manner.
The danger of using wild animals for traveling shows was put on terrible display in Honolulu in 1994 when an elephant named Tyke killed her trainer and mauled another animal handler shortly before a performance for the Great American Circus. Tyke’s rampage took her outside of the Blaisdell Arena, leading police on a chase down several city blocks. Hawaii and the world watched on the news the terrible fate that befell Tyke, as she was killed in a hailstorm of bullets on the streets of Honolulu.
U.S. Department of Agriculture documents reveal that wild animal shows and displays, including many that have appeared in Hawaii, all too often have miserable records of animal care. For example, Sea Lion Splash, a performing sea lion show, has been cited by the USDA on several counts, including failure to provide veterinary care to animals showing obvious signs of discomfort and painful eye conditions, failure to provide sea lions with minimum required pool size, and failure to provide them with shade from heat and sun.
The extensive travel forced upon them is another sad element of life for the animals used in such shows. The common experience of being caged and chained in trucks and trailers as they are hauled around the country for shows and displays would be bad enough. But that misery takes on a whole new element of wretchedness and stress when a trip across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii in the cargo hold of an airliner or ship is involved.
The HSUS petition argued that in addition to animal cruelty and public safety concerns, the use of exotic animals for entertainment is detrimental to true conservation efforts. Watching wild animals perform unnatural tricks does not foster respect or appreciation for wildlife, nor does it teach anything meaningful about the animals’ natural behavior, intelligence or beauty. Rather, it teaches that it’s acceptable to exploit and mistreat animals for amusement, and it provides a distorted understanding of them. It’s also too often true that when members of the public see exhibitors hugging tigers or feeding marshmallows to bears, they are inspired to acquire wild animals as pets themselves. By creating the dangerous and inaccurate perception that wild species, including deadly predators such as tigers, who are captive-bred and hand-reared will grow into docile, friendly animals, these shows cause a larger problem — that of regular citizens introducing these animals into their homes and communities and putting the animals and their own neighbors in jeopardy.
The public is increasingly opposed to the use of wild animals in traveling shows and local governments are responding. Four states and more than 145 localities in 37 states have enacted restrictions regarding the use of wild animals in circuses and other traveling shows, as a result of growing public awareness of the mistreatment these animals endure.
Globally, Bolivia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, the Netherlands and India are among at least 45 countries that have passed laws banning the use of wild animals in circuses. The United Kingdom has pledged to ban the use of wild animals in traveling circuses by 2020.
In 2015, Gov. Ige expressed his support for prohibiting the import of wild animals to Hawaii for entertainment purposes. The regulation now heads to his desk, and we urge him to quickly sign it. In doing so, he’ll be firmly establishing Hawaii as a pioneer in the movement to end the use of wild animals in traveling displays.