Humanity Under the Big Top

Heather Herman, a Denver high school student who gave up band last year to organize a ban on exotic animal acts in her city, discovered last week that people aren't ready to go cold turkey on circus lions, tigers, elephants, and bears.

Voters overwhelmingly turned down the so-called circus ban July 27. More than a dozen smaller US cities and 11 countries have such bans, but Denver would have been the first major US city to pass one.

At the least, Heather said, circus animals are helped because more people have learned about the abuse that they can experience. She's right, and the nation just witnessed a sad example of that with the July death of a Ringling Brothers lion named Clyde.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investigating the incident, in which a fired Ringling worker says Clyde died from heat and lack of water as the circus train passed through the Mojave desert. Four years ago, USDA cited Ringling for failing to provide sufficient care for its animals in transit. Ringling says it's committed to humane animal treatment, and has started reviewing its transport policy, and switched to using trucks for big cats.

The US Animal Welfare Act has some rules for animal care in circuses and shows. But it does not cover the use of bullhooks, whips, electric prods, and other painful training methods. Animals continue to jump through fire hoops that burn them, and to be chained in small cages.

Banning circus animals may be a step too far, but the public and governments must keep up pressure for better treatment of show animals and better enforcement of regulations.

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