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Bolivia’s Ban on Circus Animals Favors Animal Welfare Over Entertainment

August 03, 2009 05:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
In a landmark ruling to ban all circus animals, Bolivia has taken a stand against animal cruelty, setting an example for other countries around the world.

No More Circus Animals in Bolivia

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In what animal rights activists are calling a “groundbreaking” ruling, Bolivia has become the first country to ban all animals—both wild and domestic—from participating in circus acts. The law is an attempt to put a stop to the “widespread abuse in circuses operating in Bolivia,” The Associated Press reports.

According to the AP, several other countries have banned wild animals in circuses, but Bolivia’s ruling is revolutionary in its inclusion of domestic animals. Jan Creamer, chief executive of Animal Defenders International (ADI), the nonprofit organization that investigated circuses in Bolivia, was shocked by the violence with which “poorly paid and badly trained workers” treated animals. “If they wanted an animal to move, their immediate reaction was a kick or a punch or a shove,” she told the AP. Creamer said that circus animals everywhere are usually kept in very poor conditions, and often suffer from “living in tight quarters and being constantly transported.”

The new law, which took effect on July 1, states that “the use of animals in circuses ‘constitutes an act of cruelty,’” and gives circus operators a year in which to comply with the new regulations, Ximena Flores, sponsor of the bill, explained to the AP.  

According to Flores, authorities will also try to prevent circus owners from killing the animals in order to comply with the deadline. “About 50 animals are circulating in national and international circuses at the moment [in Bolivia] and we want to negotiate to make sure that the animals aren't eliminated,” she told the AP.

Background: Undercover investigation of Ringling Bros. reveals elephant abuse

PETA organized an undercover investigation into the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that revealed the abusive violence with which the 11 elephants and other animals in the show were treated. According to PETA, the circus workers “struck elephants and tigers on the head, face, ears, trunk, legs, and other parts of their bodies with bullhooks and other abusive handling tools.” Their Web site offers an explicit undercover video, and urges viewers to participate in a petition to remove the elephants from the circus.

Related Topic: Animal rights and free speech

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case determining if a 1999 federal law prohibiting depictions of animal cruelty violates the First Amendment. After the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of a man sentenced to 37 months in prison for violating a 1999 federal law banning depictions of animal cruelty, the Supreme Court reviewed the case to determine if the law is in fact unconstitutional, as the circuit court asserted.

Reuters reports that Robert Stevens was convicted in 2005 in Virginia for selling videos of pit bulls fighting. Stevens appealed the case and three years later, the appeals court stated that even if the depictions were gruesome, the videos were protected under free speech. The Supreme Court expects to hear the case in October.
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