Massachusetts Is On Track To Becoming The Ninth State In The U.S. To Ban The Use Of Wild Animals In Circuses

Last week, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development heard testimony on bills prohibiting the use of elephants, big cats, primates, giraffes, and bears in traveling exhibits and shows.

The critical bipartisan legislation (H.3245 and S.2197/S.2189), serves to protect wild animals from the distress inherent in their use as entertainment, including severe confinement, abusive training methods, and the horrific burdens of transportation and exhibition.

The training methods addressed include the use of bullhooks, whips, and electric prods. The urgency for these bills is amplified by the dozens of shows continuing to travel across the U.S. coupled with incidents that risk both public and worker safety.

Since 1990, nearly 160 dangerous incidents involving big cats, bears, elephants, and primates used in traveling shows have occurred in the U.S. These incidents have led to 10 adult deaths, 136 adult injuries, and 73 injurieto children.

Exhibitors who travel to Massachusetts are no exception. In 2019, Beulah, an Asian elephant who had been used for more than four decades to give rides to circus and fairgoers in Massachusetts and other states, died from blood poisoning caused by a uterine infection that had plagued her for years.

An exhibitor was cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for failing to safeguard the public after a teenager was bitten by a capuchin monkey exhibited at the Brockton Fair. Another exhibitor who has provided elephants to numerous Massachusetts traveling shows, lost control of the multi-ton animals, including during an incident where three elephants escaped from an arena and rampaged through a packed parking lot while spectators watched.

A December 2022 poll of 624 registered Massachusetts voters, commissioned by the MSPCA and conducted via an online survey, showed that two-thirds of Massachusetts voters support banning the use of wild animals in traveling acts. This legislation is not only an echo of public sentiment, but also a step toward a future in which animals are treated with respect rather than exploited for entertainment.

This legislation is sponsored by Committee Chair Carole Fiola (D-Fall River), House Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading), Senator Adam Gomez (D-Springfield), and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).

“During my tenure as the Chair of the committee last session, I was deeply moved by the compelling evidence and public sentiment against the use of wild animals in traveling acts,” said Chair Fiola. “Now, as a sponsor of this legislation, I feel a strong obligation to ensure we bring about significant change. With over two-thirds of Massachusetts voters in favor of banning wild animal acts, it’s clear our constituents desire a future free of animal exploitation for entertainment. This bill embodies that sentiment, underscoring our commitment to the humane treatment of animals.”

“In 2019, we witnessed a tragic event in our district during the Big E Fair, when an elephant named Beulah, owned by R.W. Commerford & Sons, collapsed and died. She had been taken from her mother in the wild at a young age and spent her life in conditions that ultimately led to her premature death. Her story is a heartbreaking reminder of the urgency of this legislation. By passing these bills, Massachusetts would take a firm stand against such mistreatment and neglect,” stated Senator Gomez.

“Animals forced to be used in traveling shows are subjected to an array of physical and mental hardships that range from prolonged and cruel confinement in traveling containers where they can barely turn around, to outright abuse with archaic and cruel bullhooks, chains, and whips. It is crucial for Massachusetts to join the other states that have already taken decisive action to reject this needless cruelty,” stated Laura Hagen, director of captive wildlife for Humane Society of the United States.

“Ringling Bros transitioned away from animal-centered acts, demonstrating that successful entertainment can be cruelty-free. We have an opportunity here to align with this forward-thinking approach,” said Senate Minority Leader Tarr.

House Minority Leader Jones added, “There is a critical need for legislation like this, as federal laws currently do not provide adequate protection for these animals. States and municipalities must take the lead in ending the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals in circuses and traveling shows.”

Massachusetts has the opportunity to become the ninth state to protect wild animals from exploitation in circuses and traveling acts — building on the progress of the fourteen Massachusetts municipalities that have enacted local laws restricting the use of cruel animal acts within their borders,” stated Animal Legal Defense Fund‘s Senior Legislative Affairs Manager Stephanie Harris.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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