Finally — Use of Wild Circus Animals Banned

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

animal circus ban

Story at-a-glance -

  • New Jersey legislators were the first in the U.S. to enact “Nosey’s Law,” new legislation that would ban the use of wild animals in circuses and other venues such as fairs, parades and petting zoos
  • The CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Kitty Block, says wild animals in traveling shows are subjected to prolonged confinement sometimes lasting months in unventilated trucks and trailers
  • The hope for Nosey’s Law is that no more wild animals will be subjected to cruel treatment while traveling with a circus as an animal performer
  • Nosey’s Law is named for a 36-year-old African elephant and circus animal who suffered cruel treatment and neglect while traveling with a circus
  • Hawaii Governor David Ige reportedly included lions, tigers, bears, crocodiles, elephants and primates in the 50th state’s ban on using wild animals for performances because of their potential for being dangerous
  • Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York are also considering such bans, according to one of the New Jersey bill’s sponsors

On December 14, 2018, New Jersey legislators made a bold move when they placed a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses and other venues such as fairs. Governor Phil Murphy said "Nosey's Law" is a "giant step forward for New Jersey and is proud that his state is taking a stand against the animal cruelty that circus animals endure,"1 Pet MD reported.

Although some may say the ruling2 was long overdue, the long-discussed ban put New Jersey on the map as the first state to make the order official. Murphy said the law would not have been enacted without the "hard work and advocacy" of New Jersey Sen. Ray Lesniak.

Murphy said the place for wild animals should be their natural habitats or wildlife sanctuaries, "not in performances where their safety and the safety of others is at risk."3 Brian R. Hackett, the state's director for the Humane Society of the United States, said the signing of Nosey's Law would "close the curtain" on the type of cruelty circuses have been known for. Hackett's statement notes that:

"New Jersey is the first state to protect wild animals from the abuses inherent in traveling shows. For too long, wild animals used in circuses have endured cruel training, constant confinement, and deprivation of all that is natural to them. We are grateful that Governor Murphy is signing Nosey's Law to close the curtain on this type of cruelty in our state."4

What Constitutes 'Exotic' or 'Wild' Animals?

"Exotic animals" are defined by the state of New Jersey as any animal species in the amphibian, bird, crustacean, fish, mammal, mollusk or reptile families, echoing the definition used by the New Jersey Fish and Game Council.5 Further, Nosey's Law applies not only to circuses, but to similar live events such as carnivals, fairs, parades and petting zoos, according to NJ.org,6 which notes:

"There were no loud roars of disapproval when the bill came up in both chambers of the Democrat-controlled New Jersey Legislature last month. It cleared the state Senate by a 36-0 vote and the state Assembly 71-3 with three abstentions."7

Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York are also considering such bans, according to one of the bill's sponsors, but just a week after New Jersey passed its law, Hawaii followed suit on December 21, signed by Hawaii Governor David Ige. Lions, tigers, bears, crocodiles, elephants and primates were included in the 50th state's ban on using wild animals for performances due to the potential for danger.

The Dodo8 notes the reaction of Humane Society of the United States' CEO Kitty Block, who reports that wild animals used in traveling shows are often subjected to prolonged periods of confinement while being hauled to various performances in unventilated trucks and trailers. According to Block, the laws in New Jersey and Hawaii were "a long time coming."9

In between performances, Block added, cats are kept in cages barely larger than themselves, and elephants are chained or confined to small pens, and many animals are "routinely deprived of adequate exercise, veterinary care, or even regular food and water."10

As a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator, I think these laws are long overdue in correcting the abhorrent treatment of animals unethically taken from the wild and forced into a life of performance and abusive captivity. I also think it's important lawmakers recognize and allow for the continuing of humane educational programs that include the use of captive-bred or permanently injured wild animals.

When wild animals become injured and cannot be released back into the wild they must be euthanized or go into humane education programs, which I believe are an important piece of educating the public about wildlife conservation.

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Why the Ban Is Called 'Nosey's Law'

Nosey's Law is named for a 36-year-old African elephant and circus animal who reportedly suffered cruel and inhumane treatment while traveling with a circus, even after he developed arthritis.

Now living in an animal sanctuary in Tennessee, her owner faces animal cruelty charges for allegedly chaining her tightly, failing to supply adequate food and water, and forcing her to stand in her own body waste, Advance Local11 reported. The hope for the New Jersey law is that wild animals will no longer be subjected to cruel treatment as traveling circus performers. The synopsis of the law states:

"The term 'traveling animal act' is defined by the bill to mean any performance which requires an animal to be transported to or from the location of the performance in a mobile or traveling housing facility. The term 'mobile or traveling housing facility' is defined by the bill to mean a vehicle — including a truck, trailer, or railway car — used to transport or house an animal used for performance."12

The Dodo relates the incident that helped convince legislators as well as the public in Hawaii to take cruelty to wild circus animals seriously: Tyke, another elephant, was used in a Honolulu circus, but in 1994, after being abused for years, Tyke got close enough to maul his trainers during a live performance, then escaped the arena and made it to the streets before being chased down and, sadly, shot by police.

How Other Countries Are Handling the Problem of Wild Circus Animals

Numerous countries in Europe, including Greece, Austria, Ireland, Croatia, Netherlands and Bulgaria, have placed all-out bans on the use of wild animals in circuses. Some have placed bans on specific wild animals; the Czech Republic, for instance, bans baby apes, seals, whales, rhinoceros, hippos and giraffes, but excludes dolphins, according to Four Paws International,13 an advocacy group dedicated to ending animal suffering.

England's ban on circus animals goes into effect in 2020, although Scotland became the first country in the U.K. to enact such a ban. In fact, 40 countries worldwide, including Peru, Mexico, Israel, Iran, El Salvador, Costa Rica, India and Lebanon, have already prohibited the use of wild animals in circuses.

Portugal's banned list is much longer and includes manatees, primates, flightless birds, reptiles and boa constrictors. Some countries use terms like "general prohibition of wild animals," or place constraints on traveling circuses and similar shows, such as Panama, and Taiwan specifies a "Nationwide prohibition on the import or export of protected wildlife for circuses."14

In other areas of the U.S., more than 80 jurisdictions in 29 states have full or partial bans on the use of animals in circuses.15 More than 40 U.S. cities have outlawed performances that involve exotic animals.

For those interested in protecting animals from abuse and exploitation and being used merely for human entertainment, you can make a difference by refusing to support any operation or organization that exploits animals. You can contact many animal advocacy groups of like mind, including Born Free USA,16 the ASPCA,17 the Humane Society of the United States18 or Animal Defenders International19 for more information.