BOSTON (October 17, 2019) — On the heels of last month’s tragic death of Beulah, an elephant forced to perform at The Big E Fair in West Springfield, the Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups are urging the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development to pass S. 2028/H. 2934, a bill to ban the use of elephants, big cats, primates and bears in traveling exhibits and shows.
A hearing on the bill, sponsored by Senators Bruce Tarr and James Welch and Representatives Lori Ehrlich and Bradley Jones, is scheduled for Tuesday, October 22 at 11:00 a.m. at the Massachusetts State House. A rally in support of the bill is scheduled at 10:00 a.m. in front of the State House.
Beulah, owned by R. W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo, was seen ailing at The Big E just days before she died in September. Last March, another Commerford elephant named Karen also died.
For decades, Commerford has hauled elephants, including Minnie—their lone surviving elephant—to fairs, festivals and circuses to perform and give rides to the public. The miserable lives that these elephants have endured are stark reminders of the cruelty that wild animals face when forced into captivity and life on the road for human entertainment.
Laura Hagen, Massachusetts state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said, “The use of wild animals for entertainment is not only horrific and inhumane for the animal, it also creates serious public safety risks as we have seen over and over again. In Massachusetts, a fair goer was bitten in 2017 by a capuchin monkey, and Commerford elephant rides have resulted in injuries to the public, including children and staff.”
Legislators across the country are responding to the public’s growing concern about the plight of wild animals used in traveling shows. Six states (New Jersey, Hawaii, New York, Illinois, California and Rhode Island) and at least 155 other localities in 37 states have passed various restrictions governing the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows—nearly 60 laws have passed just since 2014.
State Representative Lori Ehrlich, co-lead sponsor of H. 2934, said, “Wild animals used as mere props in traveling shows are subjected to violent training methods and kept in grossly substandard conditions as they are hauled from city to city in poorly ventilated trucks and trailers. No elephant, tiger or other wild animal should ever have to perform or be forced to interact with people. They deserve better lives without question.”
House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, co-lead sponsor of H. 2934, said, “A growing number of states, counties, and cities have responded to citizen concerns by passing legislation that addresses the use of elephants and other wild animals in entertainment acts – including Braintree, Cambridge, Pittsfield, Plymouth, Provincetown, Quincy, Revere, Somerville, Topsfield, and Weymouth, Massachusetts.”
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, co-lead sponsor of S. 2028, said, “Elephants and other exotic animals deserve to live a life free of the types of stresses and duress that aren’t found in their native environment,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, co-lead sponsor of S. 2028. “In a bipartisan way we are working towards that goal.”
State Senator Jim Welch, co-lead sponsor of S. 2028, said, “People feel a strong connection to elephants because they exhibit characteristics that are so familiar to us: they have deep family bonds, they show love, happiness, grief and empathy, and suffer when they are deprived of what’s natural to them. As a result, the public has become increasingly opposed to the use of elephants in traveling shows.”
Stephanie Harris, senior legislative affairs manager for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said, “Animals conscripted into being entertainers lead lives of misery and indignity. Travel, confinement and being forced to perform tricks deprive wild animals of anything that might satisfy their complex physical, behavioral, and emotional needs. Their lives constitute abuse as entertainment.”
Liz Magner, animal advocacy specialist at the MSPCA, said, “Beulah’s death shines a spotlight on the industry of traveling shows and performing acts and we hope that legislators will take action to move these bills.”
Editor’s note: This press release was updated on Oct. 18 to reflect an updated quote from Bruce Tarr.