Congressman Jim Moran (D-8th) wants to ban the use of exotic animals in traveling circuses, a move that doesn't sit well with the largest circus company in the country, which happens to be headquartered in his own backyard.
The proposal, which Moran introduced Wednesday and which he has previously attempted to pass, would impact Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which is headquartered in Northern Virginia just outside Moran's district. The circus' roots run deep in the area, with Bailey's Crossroads, which is in Moran's district, getting its name from the circus founders.
With his proposed legislation, Moran is "threatening hundreds of jobs and wants to deny millions of Americans the enjoyment of seeing these animals," said Stephen Payne, a spokesman for the circus.
"We've gone through this rigamarole before," Payne said. "It's sad that he never bothered to find out factual information from people in his own district." Moran, Payne said, "prides himself on constituent services. Really? He couldn't pick up the phone?"
Moran, co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, introduced the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act (H.R. 4525) to restrict the use of exotic, non-domestic animals touring with circuses.
"From video and photographic evidence, it’s clear that traveling circuses aren’t providing the proper living conditions for exotic animals," Moran said in a news release. "This legislation is intended to target the most egregious situations involving exotic and wild animals in traveling circuses.”
“The mounting evidence of inhumane treatment and the growing public concern for these animals demands that we reconsider what are appropriate living conditions for these intelligent, social creatures,” Moran said.
Payne said that the circus has never been found in violation of the federal animal welfare act. The proposed legislation, he said, is "a slap in the face to the hundreds of men and women who care for the animals." The company goes into detail on its Web site and in a Q&A there about how it cares for its animals.
Moran noted that various news reports have exposed the mistreatment of wild animals in traveling circus shows, including limited travel space and long hours inside vehicles, cruel training methods and stress from abnormal living conditions.
In one recent case, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, according to Moran, agreed to pay a record $270,000 fine to the United States Department of Agriculture in response to claims of Animal Welfare Act violations between June 2007 and August 2011.
Animal Defenders International (ADI) President Jan Creamer weighed in in support of Moran’s proposal, saying: “Magnificent wild animals have no place in a traveling circus, and with this bill, the US takes the lead with 27 countries across the world that have taken action of end the suffering. Due to the very nature of the traveling circus, wild animals cannot move around or exercise naturally, they live their whole lives chained or tied up, or in small cages that fit on the back of a truck. This lack of freedom leads to health, behavioral and psychological problems."
Payne said that the circus helps animals, particularly elephants, by providing a sanctuary for them at its Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. "A portion of every ticket goes to conservation programs to save this magnificent species to keep them from extinction," Payne said.
"Our investigations have shown that violence to control animals is part of circus culture," Creamer said. "Animals are beaten, whipped and electric shocked to make them perform tricks. This brutality has no place in modern society.”
The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act would "reform the use of all exotic animals in traveling circuses. The bill would end the confinement of animals for extended periods in temporary facilities, stop cruel training and control methods employed by circuses, and limit the danger these animals pose to public safety."
The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act targets only the most egregious conditions and would not impact zoos, aquariums, rodeos or other static facilities with captive wildlife, according to Moran.
In Los Angeles, the city council on Wednesday banned the use of bull hooks and other tools by elephant trainers in traveling circuses.
"We're not going to come to L.A. without our elephants," Payne told the Los Angeles Times. "The Asian elephant has been a symbol of Ringling Bros. for 144 years. We cannot bring them without using USDA-approved husbandry tools."