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Elephants, Big Cats, Primates, Giraffes, and Bears in Traveling Shows

S. 2251: An Act relative to the use of elephants, big cats, primates, giraffes, and bears in traveling exhibits and shows

MSPCA Position: Support
Sponsors: Senators Bruce Tarr and Adam Gomez; Representatives Lori Ehrlich and Bradley Jones
Status: Reported favorably by committee and referred to the committee on Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

These bills prohibit the use of elephants, big cats, primates, bears, and giraffes in traveling shows in Massachusetts.

In September of 2019, an elephant named Beulah, who was being exhibited at The Big E Fair in West Springfield, died. In February of 2020, we learned that she died of septicemia from a painful uterine infection called pyometra. Beulah was born in the wild in 1967, captured as a baby, and sold to the Commerford Zoo when she was 6 years old. She spent most of her 54 years in captivity and in chains. Commerford has been cited by the USDA over 50 times for failing to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act.

Wild animals pose a risk to public health and safety. Hundreds of people, including scores of children, have been injured by exotic animals used in circuses and traveling shows. See a comprehensive database of incidents on Born Free’s website. Additionally, elephants can carry tuberculosis (TB), a zoonotic disease that can spread through the air, which puts anyone near an infected animal—elephant or human—at risk of contracting the disease. TB carried by elephants once used in the circus was linked by the CDC to an outbreak affecting 13 people in Tennessee, only one of whom had had direct contact with infected animals. Similarly, according to the CDC, in 2013, eight employees at the Oregon Zoo became infected after contact with an infected elephant.

The use of these animals in circuses, for rides, at fairs, and in other traveling shows subjects intelligent and social animals to abusive treatment and a life on the road, deprived of exercise and the ability to express even the most basic, natural behaviors. When chained and confined in small spaces and handled with pain-inflicting devices, such as electric prods and bullhooks, these animals can become dysfunctional, unhealthy, depressed, and aggressive.

While circuses are regulated by the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which is enforced by the USDA, no agency monitors training sessions where the most violent abuses occur. Further, because the AWA establishes only minimal standards and fails to incorporate modern husbandry practices, a facility can be in compliance with the federal law, yet the animals can still be subjected to grossly inhumane conditions. Due to inadequate resources, the weak standards of the AWA are also poorly enforced.

More than 40 countries (including, Colombia, the entire EU, Iran, Singapore, and Taiwan), 7 U.S. states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island), and more than 155 localities in 37 U.S. states have passed legislation addressing the abuse of wild or exotic animals in circuses. This includes 13 municipalities in Massachusetts: Amherst, Braintree, Cambridge, Mendon, Quincy, Pittsfield, Plymouth, Provincetown, Revere, Somerville, Topsfield, Weymouth, and Wilmington. Read an Advocate Spotlight on our website with Martha Sanders, the citizen advocate behind the successful Topsfield campaign.

This legislation ensures that Massachusetts will no longer play a role in subjecting captive elephants, big cats, primates, bears, and giraffes to inhumane traveling show conditions, and also demonstrates that the Commonwealth is serious about protecting public health from zoonotic diseases.

In the Headlines

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State Senators:

Name District/Address
Bruce E. Tarr First Essex and Middlesex
Adam Gomez Hampden
Edward J. Kennedy First Middlesex
Brendan P. Crighton Third Essex
Patrick M. O’Connor Plymouth and Norfolk
Joanne M. Comerford Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester
James B. Eldridge Middlesex and Worcester
Jason M. Lewis Fifth Middlesex
Sal N. DiDomenico Middlesex and Suffolk
Julian Cyr Cape and Islands
Walter F. Timilty Norfolk, Bristol and Plymouth
Paul R. Feeney Bristol and Norfolk
Cindy F. Friedman Fourth Middlesex
Adam G. Hinds Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden

State Representatives:

Name District/Address
Lori A. Ehrlich 8th Essex
Bradley H. Jones, Jr. 20th Middlesex
James M. Murphy 4th Norfolk
Steven G. Xiarhos 5th Barnstable
Adam J. Scanlon 14th Bristol
Kip A. Diggs 2nd Barnstable
Jack Patrick Lewis 7th Middlesex
Lindsay N. Sabadosa 1st Hampshire
Angelo J. Puppolo, Jr. 12th Hampden
Paul F. Tucker 7th Essex
Angelo L. D’Emilia 8th Plymouth
Mathew J. Muratore 1st Plymouth
Joseph D. McKenna 18th Worcester
Jacob R. Oliveira 7th Hampden
Thomas P. Walsh 12th Essex
William C. Galvin 6th Norfolk
Jessica Ann Giannino 16th Suffolk
Carolyn C. Dykema 8th Middlesex
David Henry Argosky LeBoeuf 17th Worcester
Natalie M. Blais 1st Franklin
James J. O’Day 14th Worcester
Natalie M. Higgins 4th Worcester
Peter Capano 11th Essex
David Allen Robertson 19th Middlesex
Brian W. Murray 10th Worcester
Carlos González 10th Hampden
Sean Garballey 23rd Middlesex
Tommy Vitolo 15th Norfolk
Michelle L. Ciccolo 15th Middlesex
Danillo A. Sena 37th Middlesex
Steven Ultrino 33rd Middlesex
Tram T. Nguyen 18th Essex
David M. Rogers 24th Middlesex
Brian M. Ashe 2nd Hampden
Ruth B. Balser 12th Middlesex
Adrian C. Madaro 1st Suffolk
Christopher Hendricks 11th Bristol
Hannah Kane 11th Worcester
Paul J. Donato 35th Middlesex
Steven C. Owens 29th Middlesex
Daniel M. Donahue 16th Worcester
Daniel J. Ryan 2nd Suffolk
Meghan Kilcoyne 12th Worcester
Jay D. Livingstone 8th Suffolk
Carol A. Doherty 3rd Bristol
Thomas M. Stanley 9th Middlesex
Christine P. Barber 34th Middlesex
Kate Lipper-Garabedian 32nd Middlesex
James Arciero 2nd Middlesex
Bradford Hill 4th Essex
Lenny Mirra 2nd Essex
Daniel Cahill 10th Essex
Nika C. Elugardo 15th Suffolk
Marjorie C. Decker 25th Middlesex
Kay Khan 11th Middlesex
Marcos A. Devers 16th Essex
Vanna Howard 17th Middlesex
Paul W. Mark 2nd Berkshire
Kimberly N. Ferguson 1st Worcester
Michelle M. DuBois 10th Plymouth
James M. Kelcourse 1st Essex
Patricia A. Duffy 5th Hampden
Andres X. Vargas 3rd Essex
Mindy Domb 3rd Hampshire
Paul A. Schmid, III 8th Bristol
John Barrett, III 1st Berkshire
Alice Hanlon Peisch 14th Norfolk
David K. Muradian, Jr. 9th Worcester


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