The Big Top’s days in the Golden State could soon be numbered; California lawmakers voted Monday to outlaw the use of circus performing animals.
The state Senate voted unanimously for the Senate Bill 313, a ban on the commercial use of wild animals which was supported by animal rights groups Social Compassion in Legislation and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Now the legislation moves on to the State Assembly.
“California’s lawmakers are recognizing that no elephant should be chained in a parking lot, no tiger should be caged in a cramped trailer, and no camel should be whipped into performing tricks,” PETA representative Rachel Mathews said in a statement upon the bill’s passage.
The bill comes to two years after the country’s must famous circus ended its performances, in part because of protests from animal rights groups. In 2017, Ringling Bros. closed down its traveling circus after 146 years on the road.
However, SB 313’s progress through the Senate chamber wasn’t without challenges.
The language initially could be interpreted as banning not just circuses, but also wildlife conservancy and education groups’ outreach efforts.
“These animal act bans are superfluous laws that will be selectively enforced, making criminals out of good people,” the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers said in a statement upon the bill’s introduction.
The bill also was opposed by groups including the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Discovery Valley Animal Hospital, the Snow Leopard Conservancy and the Southwest California Legislative Council. While the USARK has withdrawn its opposition, the other groups have not.
In response to the criticism, the bill’s author, Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, tightened up the definition of the bill, specifically wording the ban so that only circuses would be affected.
The bill then defines a circus as “a performance before a live audience in which entertainment consisting of a variety of acts such as acrobats, aerialists, clowns, jugglers, or stunts is the primary attraction or principal business.”
The bill also specifically excludes rodeos from the ban. The state also has existing safety requirements for domestic animals, according to an analysis of the bill.
“This bill will ensure that these beautiful creatures are not exploited or cruelly treated within our state,” Hueso said in remarks arguing in support of the bill. “There are many ways to teach children and others about wildlife without loading animals in cages, hauling them around, and subjecting them to the stress of unfamiliar environments.”