New Jersey could become the first state in the nation to essentially ban old-fashioned circuses, ones with wild animals.
The state Assembly, in one of its last voting sessions scheduled for tomorrow, is slated to give final legislative passage to S-2508, a bill that would prohibit the use of elephants and other exotic animals in acts traveling to or around New Jersey. Odds for the bill’s passage in the lower house are good, given the full Senate approved the bill 32-5 with bipartisan support last October and the Assembly Appropriations Committee okayed it two weeks ago, also with the backing of both parties in a 10-0 vote.
Co-sponsored in the Senate by retiring Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), an author of several of the state’s animal protection laws, the measure has the backing of animal rights groups and appears to have little opposition.
“This would be groundbreaking for the bill to pass,” said Brian Hackett, New Jersey State Director of the Humane Society of the United States. He said the wording of the bill would “essentially make New Jersey the first state in the nation to comprehensively ban circuses with live animal acts.”
In an email to constituents, Lesniak wrote that he has made securing the passage of the bill one of his New Year’s resolutions. Still, the measure would need the signature of Gov. Chris Christie if it is to become law. Where the governor stands on the issue is unknown.
Nosey the elephant
Titled “Nosey’s Law,” the bill is named for an elephant who animal rights organizations say has been mistreated for years. They say she continues to be forced to give rides and perform tricks despite showing signs of arthritis and has been chained so tightly she could barely move and denied veterinary care. Until she was recently transferred to an elephant sanctuary — after an Alabama animal control officer found her chained and standing in her own waste and without food or water — Nosey was the only elephant in The Great American Family Circus, based in Florida. That state denied renewing her owner’s permit to keep her in Florida last year, saying he had lied to licensing officials about her future travel itinerary.
Inspired by Nosey’s story, a number of states already have banned circuses with elephants from traveling within their borders. Lesniak’s bill, introduced in September 2016, initially sought the same prohibition, but it has since been amended to include a ban on all wild and exotic animals and so would also likely cover lions, tigers, giraffes, and the like.
Last year’s closing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, which used to make annual stops in New Jersey, meant the end of the largest such circus featuring wild animals. But the website Born Free lists about two dozen other traveling shows still using such animals. According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal’s factsheet on Nosey’s owners, federal officials cited them for failing to have a veterinary-care program available for review and for failing to have enough employees to care for Nosey and other animals while they were in New Jersey in August 2015.
Traveling animal acts
The bill does not specifically cite circuses, but would ban all traveling animal acts using wild or exotic creatures. Because of the wording, it would likely not cover animal acts that include dogs, pigs, goats, and other common animals, Hackett said.
“Our New Jersey bill, even with the expansion amendment, would still allow circuses to use goats, pigs, dogs, etc.,” Hackett said. “However, the chances of circuses finding it worthwhile to operate using just those few animals is very, very low.”
He said Illinois and New York are among the states that have recently banned elephants in traveling shows. As a result, “without this iconic act,” Hackett said circuses “have essentially chosen to not operate in many of those places. It’s just not worth it for them.”
Violators would be subject to civil and monetary penalties and injunctive relief (court-ordered prohibition), but no criminal penalties apply under Nosey’s Law in New Jersey.
Hackett said activists are excited at the prospect of a ban in the state, adding, “This is an incredible time of so much converging in favor of better animal welfare for animals exploited in entertainment.”