This week the West Hollywood City Council took another progressive stand for animals with a vote to ban the use of wild and exotic species in commercial displays and performances.
The goals of the ban, which was initiated by Councilmen Jeffrey Prang and John Duran, are to protect wild and exotic animals from cruel and inhumane treatment at the hands of caretakers, in addition to protecting the public from potential hazards that come with being in proximity to these animals.
The ban includes circus acts, rides, trade shows, carnivals, parades, races or similar events, where wild or exotic animals are “required to perform tricks, fight, or participate as accomplishments in performances for the entertainment, amusement or benefit of an audience.”
The list of animals includes more than a dozen species, including some obvious candidates like elephants, chimpanzees and bears, but it also extends to a number of others, including raccoons, sloths, armadillos and ostriches.
The final vote, however, was not without controversy and strong arguments from both sides. The crowd reportedly got rowdy at a meeting held on Monday and had to be broken up by the mayor.
Animal advocates argued that there are a number of reasons to support a ban on the use of animals in entertainment, from the unnatural and stressful conditions they endure and the ways they’re deprived of the ability to socialize and engage in natural behaviors to the violence they’re often subjected to behind the scenes while being handled and trained to perform tricks.
In a letter of support, Jan Creamer, the president of Animal Defenders International, applauded the move and detailed numerous reasons animals should not be used in entertainment, including extensive research documenting blatant abuse, the substandard environments they’re kept in and the adverse effects of transport and isolation on their well being.
While some supporters of animals in entertainment continue to argue these types of shows contribute to an interest in animals and conservation, Creamer also pointed out that using them this way “is entirely the wrong message for children, especially, as they do not learn about the behavior, intelligence, emotions and needs of the species they are seeing.”
On the other side of the fight, Kari Johnson, the owner of Have Trunk Will Travel, called the ban unfair and said her company treats elephants humanely, reports the LA Times.
However, her company is the one that came under fire for abusing elephants for the movie Water for Elephants after it was caught on tape. The company also has a history of using chains and bullhooks and has faced criticism for allowing unrestricted contact with elephants at fairs and zoos.
While there are exceptions for their use in education — for groups of fewer than 20 people, for activities conducted under a film permit and under the premise those activities are monitored by the American Humane Association — animal advocates now hope that these exceptions will eventually be removed from the ordinance.
Even with those exceptions, the city’s move is huge victory for animals who continue to be treated like novelties and exploited for our amusement and sets a precedent that other cities will hopefully follow.
Since the city passed a resolution in 1989 declaring West Hollywood a “cruelty-free zone for animals,” it has taken a number of steps to make that a reality, including becoming a city where pet owners are recognized as guardians; enacting laws that protect animals from cosmetic testing and leg hold traps; becoming the first city in the U.S. to ban declawing of cats; and instating bans on retail pet sales and fur garments, the latter of which is set to go into effect this month.
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