One of the oldest complaints in the book is that “you can’t fight city hall.” And anyone who has ever tried to get a stop sign installed at their corner intersection or a speeding ticket dismissed can tell you that the mind-numbing bureaucracy still exists. But for animals exploited as “entertainment,” real change is taking place — at the local, state, national and even international level.
Just last month, California’s governor signed a bill that bars wild animals from being forced to perform in traveling shows. The British Parliament banned the use of wild animals in circuses last spring. In June, the Congress of Quintana Roo, a state in Mexico, passed a prohibition on bullfights and cockfights. Canada’s Parliament recently passed legislation banning whales, dolphins and porpoises from being bred or held in captivity. An Argentinean court unanimously ruled that an orangutan named Sandra should be transferred from the Buenos Aires Zoo to a sanctuary, saying that she is a “nonhuman person, with the right to liberty.” The zoo is being converted into an eco-park.
Partly because of bans against traveling animal acts imposed by cities and states around the country, a dozen U.S. circuses have either shut down or gone cruelty-free. Two of the biggest, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Cole Bros. Circus, had operated for more than a century before throwing in the towel. Others, like Kelly Miller Circus and Circus Vargas, revamped themselves by eliminating animal acts. Shrine circuses in Canada have not used wild animals for years.
Seeing the writing on the wall, international travel giant Thomas Cook announced that it will stop selling tickets to SeaWorld, and more than 50 companies, including Costco Travel and Fodor’s, now refuse to offer elephant rides. TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, no longer sells tickets to events in which wild animals are forced to engage in public contact, including elephant rides, tiger encounters and “swim with dolphins” excursions.
Even countries not widely known for upholding animal rights have taken meaningful action. Iran stopped issuing permits for wild animal circuses in 2016, and Slovakia, Romania and Croatia also imposed bans. The mayor of the Russian town of Magas did the same, saying that “circuses are the cruelest form of animal exploitation, where they are kept in abnormal conditions. No spectacle that uses any type of animals will ever be allowed in Magas.”
But it’s not just legislative initiatives that are affecting the way animals are treated. Public sentiment, too, has been shifting inexorably away from the use of animals in entertainment.
Families are flocking to the ever-fabulous Cirque du Soleil and the aquatic acrobatics of Cirque Italia. Children and adults alike pack the seats at IMAX theaters to watch films like “Great Bear Rainforest,” which showcases wild bears in the last intact temperate rainforest in the world. Conscientious travelers are visiting accredited sanctuaries and nature preserves or taking eco-friendly vacations to places like Florida’s John Pennekamp National Park — the first undersea park created in the U.S. Others are booking vegan cruises.
The trend is undeniable: The days of exploiting animals in the name of entertainment are quickly coming to an end.
Jennifer O’Connor is a senior writer with the PETA Foundation. This column was distributed by Tribune News Service.