Illinois wants to ban performing elephants, and the state would be the first to do this (though bullhook training is banned in Rhode Island and California). The bill should be a no-brainer. At least you’d think so, particularly on the heels of Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus shutting down with the final performance on Sunday night, May 21.
Animal rights and animal welfare proponents have been pushing for collapse of the big top, and it happened. However, in truth, it’s likely that economics was most responsible for the demise of the circus, competition from other productions, such as Frozen on Ice, Marvel Live, Supercross, Monster Trucks, and Disney on Ice, which all appear to better resonate with younger generations.
Illinois Senate Bill 1342 would prohibit elephants in circuses and traveling shows in the state. Despite recent Illinois political turmoil, the bill passed the Illinois House easily with a 91-14 vote, after a unanimous vote in the Illinois Senate. Now it heads to Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.
Carson & Barnes Circus, a Ringling Bros. kind of look-a-like, which travels to primarily small-town America, was fined $16,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an incident in 2014 during which three elephants escaped from handlers. Officials from Carson & Barnes are now lobbying the governor to veto this bill.
Incidentally, Carson & Barnes was cited by the USDA for using a bullhook with “excessive force,” repeated failure to provide adequate veterinary care to a thin elephant who had reportedly lost hundreds of pounds, and repeated failure to safely handle and maintain control of elephants. The USDA doesn’t easily take these sorts of actions (though I wish the USDA was more proactive).
Also, there are various traveling road show circus groups still around with elephants, even smaller venues, and gosh knows how those poor animals (including but not limited to elephants) may be treated. And, it’s a fact that both Asian and African elephants are endangered.
The Humane Society of the United States isn’t alone in wanting performing elephants banned in Illinois. Most people now understand and agree that elephants’ best interests are not served by using these majestic and very social and sensitive creatures as subjects of our over-bearing control for our amusement.
Aside from the legitimate humane issues regarding the way the elephants are trained, tuberculosis can be spread from elephants to humans. Three Illinois circus elephants died in the 1990’s from tuberculosis. Of the elephant handlers who were tested, half tested positive for TB.
The Illinois Governor now has the opportunity to demonstrate empathy, and take a humane stance. In truth, when given the opportunity to support humane issues and animal welfare previously, this governor has stumbled. This is an opportunity for Illinois to again become a leader. The hope is that other states will follow that lead, and I suspect that will happen. If there’s a reason why Governor Rauner should not sign this bill, I’m curious as to what that might be.