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

SD 1443/SD 1533/HD 3142An 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 Carole Fiola and Bradley Jones
Status: Filed

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 14 municipalities in Massachusetts: Amherst, Braintree, Cambridge, Mendon, Northampton, 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

State Representatives:

Name District/Address
Carole A. Fiola 6th Bristol
Bradley H. Jones, Jr. 20th Middlesex


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