Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis City Council considers future of circus animals
A contentious hearing revealed deep divisions over whether Minneapolis should ban wild animals performing in circuses.
By Terry Collins, Star Tribune
September 12, 2007
After two hours of tense debate that featured nationally recognized animal experts, the council's public safety and regulatory services committee moved the issue forward without a recommendation. The full council will vote on the matter next Friday.
If it adopts the ordinance, Minneapolis would join more than two dozen American cities including Stamford, Conn.; Boulder, Colo., and Albuquerque, N.M., that have banished circus animals.
"And they should be rendered into the trash bin of history."
Proposed bans have failed miserably in big cities such as Seattle and Denver, where voters opposed it by a 3-1 margin.
"It's a situation looking for a problem," said Zuhrah Shriner Timothy Davison, who serves on the Minneapolis Shriners' circus committee. "And we have never had a problem. Until now."
The Minneapolis debate had been tabled for months as a local nonprofit, "Circus Reform Yes," began silently demonstrating at City Council meetings.
Opponents at City Hall on Wednesday included those mostly donning a fuzzy maroon Minneapolis Shriners' fez, whose annual fall shows at Target Center would be affected. They claimed the wild animals are the top attractions and draw big crowds.
Thomas Albert, vice president of Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, told council members on Wednesday that its traveling 150 animals have a full-time staff and are well cared for.
Albert said the animals live longer and have healthier lives than their counterparts living at zoos and in the wild.
"Notwithstanding the propaganda and emotionally charged rhetoric by other animal rights activists, the facts are that performing animals are treated with respect," Albert said. "For us to do otherwise would be both wrong and foolhardy, given the integral part they play in our lives."
Remington and council member Cam Gordon are pushing for the ban that prohibits the wild animal attractions from performing in the city. Meanwhile, their colleagues, Paul Ostrow and Betsy Hodges, have a proposal allowing the shows and calling for more regulations, inspections and higher permit fees.
Under the current law, nobody can keep such exotic creatures in the city unless they get a permit.
"To merely ban animal circuses from Minneapolis obviates our capacity to have any meaningful influence on the treatment of animals in a setting we know will continue to exist," Hodges wrote in a statement.
Supporters of the ban wore bright yellow "No wild animal circuses" and argued that the exotic performers pose a public safety risk.
The crowd went silent when the committee was shown the graphic video of Tyke, an angry elephant stampeding through busy downtown Honolulu in 1995 after killing her trainer.
"It was not her first rampage," a supporter of the ban, Mary Britton Clouse, told council members about the incident.
The circus most likely affected by any ban is the Minneapolis Shrine Circus, which is scheduled for three shows Oct. 5-7 at Target Center.
Nearly 60,000 people attended three shows last year, said Bob Meyer, a Minneapolis Shriners circus chair. He estimated last year's shows brought in about $1.5 million in revenue to downtown and surrounding areas.
Andy Warg, Target Center's booking director, told council members that the shows are among the arena's highest grossing events other than the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Shriners are under contract with Target Center through 2012, Meyer added.
During Wednesday's hearing, the Shriners' Davison told Remington that his group would be unwilling to change from its current format.
"Why?" Remington asked.
"We believe people want a traditional circus experience - with animals," Davison said.
Davison later said that if the ban is passed, "we will move elsewhere."
Terry Collins • 612-673-1790
Terry Collins • firstname.lastname@example.org