Could Winston-Salem ban circus animals?

Could Winston-Salem ban circus animals?
September 15
06:00 2016



The Winston-Salem City Council’s public safety committee is considering banning circus animals from the city.

During the committee’s meeting on Monday, Sept. 12, council members discussed the options when it comes to dealing with circus animals. Over the past few months, activists with Speak Out for Circus Animals have presented videos during the City Council’s public comment sessions on the treatment of animals in the circus. They show the elephants chained and subjected to bullhooks at circuses. The videos also captured elephants lashing out and going on rampages; they had to be put down.

“It is foolish to expect or ignore that wild and exotic animals living under severe stress, confinement and abuse will never lash out or try to attack or escape,” Speak Out for Circus Animals co-founder Martha Cecil told the committee Monday.

The nationwide controversy over elephant treatment caused Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to permanently end its elephant performances this summer. Field Entertainment, which owns the circus, agreed to pay $270,000 without admitting wrongdoing to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for allegedly violating the Animal Welfare Act by chaining elephants and using bull-hooks on them. Ringling still has many other animals like tigers, lions and camels. Other circuses, such as UniverSoul and Gardner Bros., still use elephants and other wild animals.

Public Safety Chair James Taylor said the safety of the public is a concern, since circuses often times let children ride the elephants.  Taylor said any ban would only be for circuses and would not affect animals at the Dixie Classic Fair.

City staff found that it was within the city’s statuary authority to regulate performance animals. With only one of two circuses, like Garden Bros, visiting the city a year, it was believed a ban would have minimal economic impact. Other cities around the country have banned wild animals in circuses. In North Carolina, Asheville is the only city to have such a ban. Other countries like Israel, Mexico, Greece and Austria have wild circus animal bans, too.

There are several possible actions the City Council could take. The city could ban all animal performances in circuses with exceptions for nature center exhibits, it could ban only wild animals in circuses or it could adopt rules for the treatment of animals by circuses in the city.

City Council Member Jeff MacIntosh said he was in favor of restrictions on performance animals and felt constituents would appreciate them taking an “enlightened” approach to animal welfare.

Mayor Pro Temp Vivian Burke wanted to give more time for feedback from residents since the council had only heard from animal activist on the subject. The other committee members agreed and scheduled the item for the October meeting, when most likely they’ll vote on an item that can be sent to the full council.

Cecil, who lives in Greensboro, started Speak Out for Circus Animals in 2012 with Colleen Smith after seeing a poster at a protest of a baby elephant being tortured. The group has regularly been holding its own protests when circuses come to Greensboro.

Cecil said the group has collected nearly 500 signatures in Winston-Salem and about the same number in Greensboro in support of action on circus animals. She said Winston-Salem was the group’s first time addressing a city council. She said if Winston-Salem passes a ban, she’ll make the same appeal in Greensboro, which regularly hosts Ringling Bros. and UniverSoul circuses.

“We want to have success here just to show that it can be done and that the city will still be financially safe and secure,” she said.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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