Animal Defenders Seek Ban on Circus Wildlife

Just in time for the circus – animal-rights group brings its message to town

Jorja Fox, holding an elephant hook.
Jorja Fox, holding an elephant hook. (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

There was a Fox loose in City Hall last week: Jorja Fox, star of hit TV show CSI: Las Vegas, visited Austin on July 11 to highlight a new report on animal cruelty in traveling circuses.

The report from Animal Defenders International – "Animals in Traveling Circuses: The Science on Suffering" – features graphic video footage of animal abuse gathered by undercover investigators over the last decade from around the world and includes material filmed at circus performances and training facilities in Texas. ADI argues that its investigation shows animal cruelty is not simply an individual criminal problem but an inevitable result of constantly transporting wild creatures. The report highlights increased scientific understanding of the physiological strains – including cardiovascular, hormonal, and thyroid disorders, and mental damage – imposed on animals by life in travel cages. "We've moved beyond the idea that if something is alive, it must be happy," said ADI's campaign director, Tim Phillips.

As part of a cross-country tour, ADI spokesperson Fox presented Council Member Lee Leffingwell with a copy of the report. Referring to "The ABCD's – acquisition, brutality, confinement, disposal" – that are an inherent part of the circus industry, she highlighted the success of human-performer-only circuses like Cirque du Soleil and the Chinese State Circus. Comparing animal performances to lead pipes and asbestos, Fox said, "While circuses may have had their place in the world, we know more scientifically, we know more psychologically, we know a lot more about animal behavior, and we can all agree that this can and should be a thing of the past."

ADI criticizes the U.S. Animal Welfare Act as lacking minimum welfare standards for all animals, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for failing to sufficiently enforce the current regulations. The organization proposes a nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses – not just protecting animals in the U.S. but internationally, since so much of the animal training and trafficking trade is based here. Similar bans have been adopted in Austria, Costa Rica, Hungary, Israel, India, and Singapore, with legislation being considered in Greece and the United Kingdom. ADI is requesting that Austin follow the example of Buenos Aires, to set a precedent in the U.S. by passing a citywide ban. Leffingwell confirmed the city has received letters from Austinites concerned about circus animals and supportive of a ban. "You guys can be the first," said Fox.

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Animal Defenders International, Jorja Fox, Lee Leffingwell, U.S. Animal Welfare Act

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