New Jersey Bans Wild and Exotic Animals in Circuses

CC BY 2.0. AGENTF1 – Circus cats

It is the first U.S. state to take such drastic action.

The state of New Jersey has become the first in the United States to prohibit the use of wild and exotic animals by traveling shows and circuses. The legislation was signed into effect on December 14 by Governor Phil Murphy, and is a milestone for animal rights activists who have been fighting for this law since the last legislative session, when former governor Chris Christie vetoed it.

'Nosey's Law', as it's called, is named after a 36-year-old arthritic elephant who was forced to travel around the country for traveling circus acts while suffering abuse. She was eventually rescued and placed in an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. The law reflects a changing societal attitude toward the role of animals in people's lives and a deepening concern about their quality of life. Gov. Murphy said in a press release,

"I am proud to sign 'Nosey’s Law' and ensure that New Jersey will not allow wild and exotic animals to be exploited and cruelly treated within our state... These animals belong in their natural habitats or in wildlife sanctuaries, not in performances where their safety and the safety of others is at risk."

So far New Jersey is the only American state to outlaw the use of wild and exotic animals. Some other states and localities are making efforts to improve conditions for circus animals, such as banning bullhooks, a cruel elephant training tool, in California and Rhode Island in 2016, and banning elephants in traveling shows in New York and Illinois in 2017, but none has gone so far as New Jersey. The U.S. is behind the times in this regard. More than 45 countries, including India, Italy, Iran, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and the Netherlands, have already passed laws banning the use of wild animals in circuses.

woman riding elephant

Bob n Renee/CC BY 2.0

Such reforms are desperately needed, according to Kitty Block, acting president of the Humane Society of the United States. She wrote for her blog,

"Wild animals used in traveling shows are subjected to prolonged periods of extreme confinement in dark and unventilated trucks and trailers as they are hauled from venue to venue for months at a time. When they are not performing, elephants are chained or confined to small pens and big cats are kept in transport cages that typically measure approximately four feet by seven feet – barely bigger than the animals themselves. The animals are routinely deprived of adequate exercise, veterinary care, or even regular food and water by exhibitors whose primary concern is heading out of one town to set up in the next."

When these animals escape from the circus, they can meet a tragic end. Block gives the example of a tiger spotted along an interstate in Atlanta, Georgia, last year: "The tiger was one of 14 big cats in a circus act who was being shipped back to Europe after having performed for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for several years." The tiger ended up being shot by police after jumping into a backyard and attacking a dog.

Nosey's Law signifies the beginning of a new era for American circuses. I suspect it will catch on, inspiring other states to do the same and put an end to a form of entertainment that is simply not entertaining anymore.