By: Patti Strand  Date: 08/29/2004 Category: | Animals in Education & Entertainment |

On August 10, 2004, citizens of Denver, Colorado, voted nearly 3-1 to keep the circus in town.

The ban was placed on the ballot through an initiative drive spearheaded by a high school student and backed by the Humane Society of the US and other groups that oppose the use of animals in entertainment. Anti-circus advocates using propaganda promoted by animal rights groups gathered enough signatures to force city council to give voters the final say.

Seventy-two percent said "No" to the ban that would force Ringling Brothers and other circuses to avoid the mile-high city.

Feld Entertainment, the operating company for Ringling, supported opposition to the ban with $175,000. Ringling has been performing in Denver since 1919. Feld supported the Keep the Circus in Denver Committee, which included some city council members and the city's chamber of commerce.

As usual, the ban campaign focused on the few cases of animal injury or death to convince voters that circuses are unsafe for animals and just in case that tack failed, they spread the propaganda that circus animals are mistreated by trainers, improperly housed, and forced to perform whether they want to or not.

The Outdoor Amusement Business Association compiled the following information that belies the propaganda.

"Animal activist groups have been very vocal critics of circuses with animals, citing everything from danger of rampaging elephants to the threat of contracting tuberculosis from circus elephants. If these false claims are challenged, they resort to the argument that you shouldn't patronize circuses as they mistreat their animals. The 'documentation' they provide consists of a few old, altered videotapes and inspection reports taken out of context."

OABA and other sources provide the following to counter the claims of animal rights radicals:

Agencies such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the USDA organized National Tuberculosis Working Group confirm that there is not one documented case of a member of the general public being infected with TB from a circus elephant or other circus animal.

Insurance companies that insure the majority of circus elephant operators have stated in writing that this is not a liability-ridden industry. Behavioral problems with the elephants account for few claims; the remainder involve accidents on the loading platform.

Additionally, some of the members of the public who alleged injury did not submit their claims to insurance companies or litigate or ask to get medical bills paid.

Behavioral specialist Dr. Ted Friend of Texas A&M University has concluded that 'the physical and psychological welfare of circus elephants is not as a rule inferior to that of other animal husbandry systems in zoos, stables, kennels or farms.'

Animal behaviorist Dr. Marthe Kiley-Worthington was commissioned by the RSPCA and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare in Britain to study circus animals in comparison with animals in zoos and in the wild. After 3000 hours of observation, she concluded that "On balance, I do not think that the animals best interests are necessarily served by money and activities diverted to try and ban circuses and zoos either locally or nationally. What is much more important is to continue to encourage the zoos and circuses to improve their animal welfare along the lines recommended."

Other Victories

Although a number of US communities have banned circus acts with animals, there are signs that the campaign to destroy these acts is stalling. On August 24, 2004, a federal district court judge granted an injunction to Ringling to control the picketing and demonstrations of animal rights activists during the circus dates in San Jose, California. The injunction limits the number of demonstrators at the pavilion where the performances take place, requires that they remain peaceful and polite, forbids videotaping of circus-related activities, and allows security guards to remove those who violate these restrictions.

In Windsor, Ontario, Canada, a supreme court judge declared a law prohibiting exotic animal acts to be illegal, paving the way for circuses to return to the city. The judge determined that the city had done no research to confirm its contention that exotic animals were a threat to public safety and that in fact insurance industry statistics show very little risk to patrons. Canada had no incidents of patron injuries in the past 10 years.

The British borough of West Norfolk has also rescinded a ban placed on circus performances on council-owned land after it was determined that council had no authority to ban activities based on moral grounds. The ban was put in place in 1997. In the future, circuses applying for permission to use council land will be judged individually.

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