Legislation Would Ban 'Exotic Animals' From Circus Performances In PA

Mar 30, 2015

Elephant performers, like these from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, might no longer been seen in Pennsylvania, if Senator Leach's bill passes.
Credit Courtesy Photo/ ADI

Pennsylvania Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) is finalizing a bill that would ban "exotic animals" from circus performances in Pennsylvania.

The bill follows an announcement by Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus that “The Greatest Show on Earth” will phase out use of elephants by 2018. Leach said this was a step in the right direction, but his bill goes further.

According to Leach, “exotic animals” includes any species that does not live naturally in the United States. For example, zebra, elephant, lion and tiger traveling acts will not be allowed. Horses, bears, dogs, and animals used in agricultural shows and rodeos will still be permitted.

“I think what we’re inclined to do is just limit it to exotic animals,” Leach said. “It won’t cover every conceivable animal, but it would have the effect of essentially shutting down the animal portion of circuses.”

Leach received help from Animal Defenders International (ADI), an animal rights group that advocates against the captivity of animals, in researching and drafting his bill. Christina Scaringe, general counsel for ADI, said exotic animals are the ones who suffer the most from circus life.

“It’s the animals that have the high intelligence, the complex social structures, and the large home ranges that are the least suited to circuses,” Christina said, citing elephants as examples. According to Scaringe, ADI investigations have revealed that traveling shows subject their animals to “cramped” living spaces and constant stress.

“Unfortunately, our investigations have revealed abuse across the board, across species,” Scaringe said.

According to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus website, animals are trained using a reward system of food and praise and “verbal or physical abuse and the withholding of food or water are strictly prohibited.”

According to ADI, 30 countries have banned live animals from performances, and 23 states have some restrictions on the use of animals.

Leach said he expects bipartisan support for the bill.

“There are Democrats and Republicans who are against animal cruelty and want to do everything they can to stop it,” Leach said.

He also said traveling circus animal rights legislation should be easier to pass than farm or animal slaughter regulations, because Pennsylvania does not depend on circuses for any substantial income.