Increased Demand for Compassionate Entertainment

Annie Hornish

We are but one species in the inextricably intertwined web of life on Earth. As more people learn about the complex lives of other species, public sentiment is shifting away from abusing animals for the frivolity of entertainment. Two bills being considered this year are testament to this increasing desire to cohabitate with sensitivity to other species’ needs.

 

Senate Bill (SB) 413 would end the use of wild animals in traveling shows. 

 

Wild animals in circuses and other traveling shows are trained with pain and the fear of punishment. Caged and chained in trucks and trailers, these animals are forced to endure months of grueling travel, bullied to perform silly tricks, and are denied everything that is natural and important to them. There is ample documentation and irrefutable evidence that the suffering these animals endure is real and systemic throughout the industry. Further, existing laws do not sufficiently protect them, and these already-weak laws are poorly enforced.

 

In addition, these traveling exhibits also pose a public safety risk by bringing powerful, unpredictable, and stressed wild animals in close proximity to the public.

 

The public’s distaste for wild animal acts has been growing for decades, and a growing number of states and localities have responded by passing legislation similar to SB 413: Rhode Island, California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and 161 jurisdictions across the United States, including Stamford and Bridgeport, have passed restrictions on wild animal acts. In 2017, Ringling Bros. ended 146 years of coercive and inherently inhumane wild animal acts. In 2016, Forbes magazine reported that U.S. circus attendance dropped an estimated 30-50% over the previous 20 years. A 2015 Gallup poll showed that 69% of Americans are concerned about the use of wild animals in travelling shows.

Increasing Demand for Compassionate Ente

Photo: A rescued elephant who used to be a circus act

Photo credit: Geordie Guy on Flickr

Another bill, House Bill 5341, would prohibit the sale and breeding of certain cetaceans, e.g., dolphins, whales, and porpoises.

 

Dolphins and whales are highly intelligent mammals with complex social structures. Captive public displays disrupt their families and frustrate their ability to roam over great expanses of ocean, as they have evolved to do. Both science and common sense dictate that these highly social and intelligent animals suffer in intensive confinement; the drastically shortened lifespans in captivity are testament to the inherent stressful nature of captive conditions. (Note: Although exemptions would apply for research done by Mystic Aquarium, critics have made the point that such extrapolations from cetaceans held in the highly unnatural setting of captivity cannot yield useful information for cetaceans in the wild.)

 

In June 2019, Canada banned keeping whales and dolphins in captivity, a watershed moment in the protection of marine mammals. California is considering a similar measure this year. SeaWorld announced in 2016 that it would stop breeding captive killer whales and shift its focus to marine mammal rescue operations.

 

These bills reflect a growing momentum in both public and voter opinion regarding the value we place on the health, liberty and happiness of other species and the environment, our common home.

 

Annie Hornish is the Connecticut Senior State Director for The Humane Society of the United States and a Supporting Member of Sierra Club. Contact her at ahornish@humanesociety.org.

 

Editor’s Note: As always, we encourage you to write to your state legislators to let them know your thoughts on these issues.