New Jersey has made history by becoming the first state in the country to ban the use of numerous wild animal species, including elephants, tigers, lions, bears and primates, in circuses and traveling shows.
Governor Phil Murphy today signed into law a measure that recognizes both the animal welfare concerns and the public safety dangers posed by such shows. The bill passed the state Senate unanimously in June, and the General Assembly in October.
To date, four states and close to 150 localities across 37 states have passed laws governing the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows and many more are in the process of considering legislation. In 2016, California and Rhode Island banned bullhooks, a cruel elephant training tool. In 2017, Illinois and New York banned the use of elephants in traveling shows. In Hawaii, we await the signature of Gov. David Ige on a regulation enacted by the board of agriculture 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.
But New Jersey’s law – named “Nosey’s Law” in honor of an arthritic elephant who last year was seized following an Alabama court order and who now enjoys life at a Tennessee sanctuary — goes a step further by banning virtually all wild animals commonly used by circuses and traveling shows.
Globally, too, there’s a trend toward ending wild animal acts in entertainment. 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.
These reforms sweeping the country and the world have been a long time coming. Wild animals used in traveling shows are subjected to prolonged periods of extreme confinement in dark and unventilated trucks and trailers as they are hauled from venue to venue for months at a time. When they are not performing, elephants are chained or confined to small pens and big cats are kept in transport cages that typically measure approximately four feet by seven feet – barely bigger than the animals themselves. The animals are routinely deprived of adequate exercise, veterinary care, or even regular food and water by exhibitors whose primary concern is heading out of one town to set up in the next.
Last year, a tiger was spotted on an interstate in Atlanta, Georgia, along a school bus route, and then in a residential area where she was ultimately shot and killed by police after she jumped a fence into a backyard and attacked a dog. The tiger was one of 14 big cats in a circus act who was being shipped back to Europe after having performed for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for several years. The tiger escaped from the truck carrying the cats as it passed through Atlanta and her escape went unnoticed by the transporters until they arrived at their destination in Tennessee.
Wild animals are not willing performers. Elephants have no desire to balance on their front legs, tigers don’t freely leap through fiery hoops and bears have no interest in riding bicycles. Through cruel training methods, the animals learn that they must perform on command or they will suffer the painful consequences.
An HSUS undercover investigation of a tiger act that performs for various Shrine circuses 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, or the abusive training tools he used.
The closing of Ringling Bros. showed that the marketplace has to a great extent ruled against animal acts, and it’s proper for public policy to follow suit. We applaud the states and localities that are respecting their constituents’ wishes and embracing a compassionate way forward. New Jersey’s bill was originally introduced in 2016 by now-retired New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak who was a tireless advocate for animal issues during his 40-year state legislative career. We are grateful to him and to the key sponsors of the bill this session, including Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez, and Assembly Members Raj Mukherji, Andrew Zwicker and Jamel Holley. We also thank Gov. Murphy for signing the bill into law today. And we thank you for supporting our long campaign to bring an end to the suffering and neglect that wild animals have for so long endured in circuses and other traveling shows.