Montgomery Co. Considers Ban on Animals Used in Performances

ROCKVILLE, Md. — The Montgomery County Council held the first hearing on a proposal to ban the use of animals in circuses or other businesses that “exhibit or financially benefit” from the exhibition of those animals on Tuesday.

The bill is aimed at barring the use of wild animals in exhibits or shows for entertainment, including camels, bears, primates, wildcats, crocodiles and snakes.

The ban would affect businesses such as the Kelly Miller Circus, which features camels, zebras and elephants. At Tuesday’s hearing before the council, Nicole Paquette, Vice President of Wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States, said the bill would focus on prohibiting the use of wildlife in traveling shows.

“The animals endure a lifetime on the road, traveling in boxcars or in trailers, oftentimes contained in small cages,” she said.

Halsey Smith, a Silver Spring resident, testified that he’s never seen animals mistreated at the Kelly Miller Circus. Smith explained that he was familiar with the operations of the Kelly Miller Circus because he’s a member of the American Legion, which has sponsored the circus appearances in Montgomery County since 2011.

Smith said the shows bring wild animals to young people who wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see them up close.

“It’s an opportunity for a lot of young people to be able to see the circus, to see the spectacular animals that are there. They’re able to ride the elephants and the camels under control of the circus folks, and it’s a wonderful experience.”

But Paquette insisted it’s not a wonderful experience for the animals.

“They are coerced with abusive training practices — most of which you will never see in public,” she said.

Paquette said elephants are subjected to training with bullhooks, and the performances exploit wild animals that are made to behave in ways that they would never do in the wild.

“Elephants in the wild don’t normally stand on their heads, they don’t jump on the backs of other elephants. They don’t perform because they want to, they perform because they have to,” she said.

On its website, the Kelly Miller Circus has a page that declares “We love our animals!” and includes the following statement: “The Kelly Miller Circus exceeds all federal animal welfare standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Animal Welfare Act.”

The bill being considered by the county council would not apply to domestic or farm animals, so for example, it would not apply to the operations of agricultural fairs where livestock is displayed.

The bill will be heard in a Public Safety Committee work session Sept. 9, according to the Montgomery County Council website.

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