DEN HAAG, MEXICO CITY, LONDON––Announcements distributed by Animal Defenders International less than 24 hours apart on December 12 and 13, 2014 heralded Dutch and Mexican national bans on the use of wild animals in circuses.
Said Animal Defenders International president Jan Creamer, “Use of animals in traveling circuses is cruel and outdated, and that is now recognized in legislation in 30 countries.”
Dutch ban expected since 2008
Agreed Dutch minister for economic affairs Sharon Dijksma, “It is no longer of this time that wild animals like elephants and tigers perform in the circus. The use of these animals for entertainment and preservation of a tradition does not outweigh the degradation of the animal.”
The Dutch ban, which is still just a ministerial proposal, not yet having the force of law, is tentatively to take effect in September 2015. The Netherlands had been expected to enact a ban on wild animal performances since 2008, long sought by the animal charity Wilde Dieren de Tent Uit, whose name translates “No Wild Animals in Circuses.” Coalition governments have repeatedly promised to implement the long-impending ban, without actually moving it forward.
According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs web site, “In 2012, approximately 22 circuses used animals in their acts in the Netherlands, involving a total of 190 animals. Approximately 16 of those circuses have acts that use wild animals. In those circuses, a total of 15 wild species were counted, and a total of 119 animals. These included the mammals that will soon be forbidden for use in circuses, among others, elephants, tigers, lions, giraffes, zebras, sea lions, coatimundis, apes, monkeys, hippopotamuses, and exotic cattle.”
Mexican ban moved quickly
The Mexican ban on wild animal use in circuses had advanced for a shorter time, but in recent years rapidly built momentum.
Said ADI, “Senator Jorge Emilio González Martínez proposed the measure last year as an amendment to Mexico’s General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection. Those found guilty of committing an offense under the new legislation face huge fines of fifty to 50,000 times the minimum wage––the equivalent of nearly $230,000. The Green Party in Mexico has asked ADI to begin highlighting the law throughout Mexico.”
The Mexican ban on using wildlife in circuses is to take effect upon being signed into law by President Pena Nieto.
Preceding the Mexican national ban was similar legislation adopted by six of the 32 Mexican states––Colima, Guerrero, Morelos, Yucatan, Chiapas and Zacatecas––and by the Mexico City legislative assembly. The Mexico City sailed through on June 10, 2014 by a vote of 41-0 with 11 abstentions, just after the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus completed a two-week local engagement.
Dolphin shows, bullfights, rodeo exempted
“There can be no lions or tigers or bears ––not even dogs or horses––in circus rings,” elaborated Mark Stevenson of Associated Press. “The law does not apply to water shows with dolphins or bull fighting,” Stevenson added, “nor does it prohibit the use of animals in Mexico’s traditional rodeos, known as ‘charreadas.’”
Predicted Mexican national circus association president Armando Cedeno when the Mexico City ban passed, “If they really enact a nationwide ban in Mexico, circuses will die.”
Agreed Aurora Vazquez, of Circus Vazquez, “The first thing people ask is `do you have animals?’ And if you don’t have animals, they won’t come.”
Enforcement will be the hard part
Passing a circus ban in Mexico may be much easier than enforcing it, especially since the Mexican wildlife exhibition and wildlife trafficking industries are intertwined with the out-of-control Mexican drug trade. While the larger circuses and performance venues maintain a respectable image, actions of smaller wildlife exhibitors––including neglect and abandonment of exotic animals––have repeatedly stirred activist outrage.
In Peru, a nation with similar issues and cultural divides, a stronger reputation for maintaining law and order, and a three-year-old ban on the use of wildlife in circuses, a lion named Smith nearly killed schoolteacher Roxana Guevara Huaraca, 32, during an August 14, 2014 performance of the Monaco Circus in Santa Rosa, in the district of San Sebastian, near Cuzco.
The highly public and well-publicized appearance of the lion act called into question the will of Peruvian authorities to implement the ban on wildlife acts. (See “Circus lion attack calls into question the will of Peruvian authorities to enforce wildlife performance ban,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-Gx.)
Smith, two other lions, and a monkey were impounded soon afterward by local police. Reportedly they were to be sent to an unnamed sanctuary.
Animal Defenders International template
Peruvian president Alan Garcia had in July 2011 signed into law a national ban on the use of wildlife in circuses based on a template promoted by Animal Defenders International since 2007.
Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Paraguay have also banned wildlife use in circuses since 2007, implementing the Animal Defenders International recommendations. Similar bans were adopted in Greece in 2012 and Cyprus and El Salvador in 2013. Tom Duffy’s Circus, the last to exhibit lions and tigers in Ireland, discontinued big cat acts in June 2013.
British agriculture minister David Heath in April 2013 introduced a draft bill which would require circuses to end wild animal acts by the beginning of December 2015, also apparently based on the ADI template, but the proposed British ban has not advanced.
China & Indonesia
China, Indonesia, and India have also moved in recent years to restrict the use of wildlife in performing venues.
A series of prosecutions of street corner monkey acts in major Chinese cities have produced a rare public legal conflict between branches of government. The Henan provincial government State Council in 2008 protected traveling monkey acts as a “national intangible cultural heritage,” but other provinces and the capital city, Beijing, have held that the monkey acts are illegally transporting wildlife.
In Indonesia, crackdowns on monkey acts ordered by Jakarta governor Joko Widodo and Surakarta mayor F.X. Hadi Rudyatmo in late October and early November 2013 sent some monkey handlers into hiding. Others collected compensation of about $90 per monkey surrendered to wildlife officials and hoped that official pledges of job training for former handlers would be fulfilled.
By early 2014 the Indonesian campaigns appeared to have lost momentum.
Animal Welfare Board of India
The Animal Welfare Board of India on November 15, 2013 announced that it would no longer license elephants for circus use, and would prosecute circuses that use sick, injured, and unlicensed animals.
PETA/India chief executive Poorva Joshipura charged in October 2014, however, that the AWBI ban on elephant use had not been enforced.
“Legal show-cause notices were issued to the defaulter circuses,” Joshipura told the Times of India, but the circus elephants had then neither been seized and sent to rehabilitation centers, nor been deregistered for further use in performances, Joshipura charged.
Replied AWBI chair General R.M. Kharb, “We are in process of deregistering the elephants. We had issued show cause notices to all the defaulters, but only one of the circuses has responded to the notice so far. Meanwhile, we also had a re-inspection conducted through an independent agency to be extremely sure and the rehabilitation process will begin soon.”
The Central Zoo Authority in November 2009 decreed that elephants may no longer be exhibited by zoos and circuses, but had been unable to enforce the decree against circuses while the Animal Welfare Board continued to authorize elephant use.
The Supreme Court of India in 2001 upheld a previously unenforced ban dating to 1978 on the use of bears, monkeys, and big cats in circuses. More than 280 lions, 40 tigers, and several dozen ex-performing bears were transferred to CZA-accredited Animal Rescue Centres near Agra, Bangalore, Bhopal, Chennai, Jaipur, Tirupati, and Visakhapatnam.
Several of the receiving organizations, notably Wildlife SOS, have subsequently opened facilities to handle impounded or surrendered elephants.
India has about 3,500 captive elephants, the most of any nation; a 3,500-year history of elephant use and exhibition; about 28,000 elephants left in the wild, more than half of the total population of Asian elephants; and the longest record of protecting both elephants and elephant habitat, beginning about 2,240 years ago.