Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Circus Animals – protected in West Hollywood, but let down in Los Angeles

Posted: 18 December 2013. Updated: 7 January 2014


The “bullhook ban” enforcement problem: This man is cleaning around the elephant, she is in the way, he hits her with the pitchfork he is using and kicks her. No one is around – that’s when most violence to circus animals takes place. ADI secured this footage with a hidden camera.

But in three years time, how does LA City Council expect to monitor such behavior? National wild animal bans are being secured where they once seemed impossible, so why did LA City set its sights to low?

In September, West Hollywood joined cities around the world with a unanimous vote for an ordinance to ban the commercial display and performance of wild and exotic animals.

ADI worked with CM Jeffrey Prang on the language of the ordinance, writing a detailed letter to councilmembers (quoted in the LA Times), mobilizing public support, giving verbal testimony, together with a letter from award-winning TV host and animal advocate Bob Barker, who said: “I cannot think of a better place to take a stand against the abuse and suffering of animals in the name of entertainment than West Hollywood – at the heart of our entertainment industry.”

West Hollywood has joined the hundreds of cities in the US, UK, Europe, Latin America, Australia and Asia that have ended animal circus acts – as well as the 25 countries with national laws.

Whilst Los Angeles City Council contemplated ever weaker measures for circus animals –West Hollywood adopted a strong measure, and in Ireland alone, bans were passed in Monaghan, Waterford, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Clonakilty, Arklow and Galway. National laws were passed in Colombia, El Salvador, Croatia, Cyprus, and in India elephants were added to an existing ban. In the UK, Belgium and Malta, national prohibitions were tabled.

LA cast aside the options for a wild animal or elephants-only ban (both discarded without a vote) in favor of a prohibition on tools – the bullhook/ankus, pitchforks and the like – when used to control elephants in a “performance related context.”

Even worse, the ban on tools was postponed for three years which, if time is added for assessment, could mean five years before any new measures can be introduced. Other jurisdictions have opted to remove the animals from the environment that causes the problems, but LA hopes for more “humane” shows for elephants – nothing for other wild animals.

The logic for the phase-out is unclear, since such transition periods are commonly used when the use of animals is ended, to allow owners to sell animals and move to human-only shows. Bolivia brought in a full ban on all animal acts with a year for circuses to go animal free; Peru and Colombia set two-year phase-outs for wild animal acts. In the UK, circuses will be given to the end of 2015. LA gave longer than all of these countries – to change a tool/weapon.

Ordinances to ban tools used on a single species cannot address the serious physical and mental issues caused by small, barren environments, abnormal social groupings and constant travel (all considered to cause suffering). Or indeed, off the road training.

Announcing unanimous agreement on the “bullhook ban,” CM Paul Koretz expressed the hope that circuses would comply and continue to bring elephants, presenting a more humane entertainment.

For over 25 years, ADI has worked undercover in circuses and campaigned nationally and locally in the US and worldwide. The way to end the suffering of animals in circuses is to end their use for such entertainment.

The enforcement weaknesses with ordinances banning implements like bullhooks need to be addressed. We have recorded animals being beaten with all kinds of tools, from shovels and brooms to iron bars, fists, whips, indeed anything to hand, even a golf club.

There are clear difficulties with monitoring, especially since most of the abuse filmed by ADI in circuses has been behind the scenes. Circuses may adapt their behavior in public; one circus has already circumvented a “bullhook ban” by using bamboo canes to control their elephants in public. We doubt that LA animal services will know whether a circus is carrying any of the prohibited weapons or tools.

Apparently Ringlings claimed that they would not return to LA if a “bullhook ban” was passed and this gave rise to concern. Let’s see whether we can take the company’s word for this. Or perhaps they will decide to modify their methods, or bring other species; or skip LA altogether and return after a few years. Certainly the local venue, Staples, will clearly remain busy with other shows.

In the meantime, LA is left open to the arrival of wild animal shows with a wider range of species, such as performing bears.

We cannot envisage that any of the animal circus bans we have worked on in the US and around the world would have been achieved if we had asked for a ban on tools/weapons or equipment. Wild animal acts can be ended, perhaps not on the first attempt (Bolivia took three attempts), but with persistence, animals can be protected from abuse.



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