How Not to do Activism: An Exercise in Futility

Today on Capitol Hill, Bob Barker and Jorja Fox will join Animal Defenders International, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and members of Congress to launch a Bill that would end the use of wild animals in circuses in the USA.

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What short memories we tend to have. A similar bill, pertaining only to circus elephants, was introduced a decade ago, also to great fanfare. In the end, it of course failed. Why is this bill destined for a similar fate?

Money talks. We all know the political process isn’t based upon what is right or who has the moral upper hand, but rather whose campaign contributions speak the loudest. Feld Entertainment  is an enormous conglomerate with cash and paid lobbyists that stack the deck against animal advocates.

Where would the animals go? It’s an industry argument, but it is one based upon fact. Only two animal sanctuaries in the US are equipped to handle elephants, and this bill would include not only pachyderms, but also big cats, bears, primates, and a number of other difficult and expensive to house animals.

What about accredited zoos? There are certainly more of them than exotic-animal sanctuaries. However, it is highly doubtful that zoos would be able to take in many of these animals, either. First off, a surprising number of circus elephants are infected with tuberculosis, which would put a zoo’s patrons and other animals at risk. Secondly, many circus felines are randomly bred and have unknown genetic histories, making them unsuited for zoo breeding programs which aim to save species by preserving their genetics. Lastly, many circus animals, particularly elephants and apes, appear to be psychologically damaged by their years spent in highly unnatural conditions.  These animals would have difficulty blending in with social groups of other members of their species, who would no doubt be unnerved by the circus castoffs’ aggression, depression, psychosis or human dependency.

So what can be done? Let’s introduce a bill that bans circuses from breeding or buying more elephants, tigers, and other exotic species. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only way we will see a light at the end of the tunnel.

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