Thursday, October 23, 2008

Monterey County considers exotic animal ordinance as circus conglomerate faces first ever federal ESA lawsuit

"Monterey County considers exotic animal ordinance as circus conglomerate faces first ever federal ESA lawsuit"


The Monterey County Board of Supervisors has asked the county Animal Control Advisory Committee to review an exotic animal ordinance that would assure basic protections under the Animal Welfare Act for the animals visiting the county in entertainment venues, as Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus faces allegations of animal abuse in a landmark federal trial set to open in the District of Columbia on October 27th.  The circus faces the first federal lawsuit of it's kind under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), for abusing Endangered Asian Elephants.  Videotape and circus employee testimony, as well as vet records, bolster the claims made by animal groups.  The ESA states that persons may not "harm, injure, harass or kill" endangered animals.


At the center of the groundbreaking case is the use of the bullhook, a long metal bar with a sharp hook on the end that all circuses and most trainers use on elephants.  Ringling's own internal documents have their animal behaviorist reporting "an elephant dripping blood all over the area floor from being hooked", a vet report that states that "four of the elephants came in with bullhook abrasions after their morning bath" and further evidence shows that Ringling keeps their elephants chained and virtually immobile for the majority of their lives.


Several former Ringling employees have testified about animal abuse before the USDA and Department of Fish & Game, including former elephant man, Tom Rider, who is a plaintiff in the ESA lawsuit.  In 2001 a San Jose police officer cited Ringling trainer Mark Oliver Gebel with a violations of California animal welfare laws by striking an elephant with a bull hook.  In 2006 a head Ringling trainer beat an elephant for over twenty minutes, at one point using two bullhooks, in front of a crowd of Ringling employees.  Two of the former Ringling employees that witnessed the beating have come forward to speak out.  In addition to this, animal groups have videotape evidence of Ringling trainers hitting elephants with the bullhooks.


In 1999, the USDA informed Ringling that practices that included physical punishment and restraining baby elephants with rope, which caused the severe rope burns on their legs noted in the USDA records, during the separation (from their mothers) and training process of baby elephants, was in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.


The Monterey County ordinance, called the Tyke Exotic Animal Ordinance for Monterey County, is named for a circus elephant who, during a performance in 1994, rampaged in Honolulu, killing her trainer, Allen Campbell, in front of the audience and injuring a dozen bystanders before being killed in a hail of gunfire on the streets on Honolulu in front of dozens of onlookers, including children.  Dozens of lawsuits were filed, including many against the city of Honolulu and the state of Hawaii.  Those suits were settled out of court, some as many as ten years later, for an undisclosed amount.  After the rampage, Honolulu stopped hosting circuses.
The proposed ordinance would be a permitting process that would pay for itself with permitting fees and fines levied against violators would cover the cost of enforcement.  The ordinance would not cover stationary exotic animal display in Monterey County and would allow for unpermitted travel for animals that permanently reside in Monterey County for veterinary purposes.


The Tyke Ordinance seeks to help address the abuse and neglect of these animals, including many endangered animals like tigers, rhinos, wolves, primates and African and Asian Elephants, by weeding out the bottom of the barrel circuses and traveling animal displays that visit the county.  Required USDA record checks within the ordinance would assure that acts visiting here have not had egregious Animal Welfare Act violations within the last three years, nor had any employees convicted of felony animal abuse.


The ordinance also has provisions to help assure that public safety measures are met by assuring that visiting acts have plans and means in place to safely recapture an escaped animal and would help protect Monterey County from liability stemming from an exotic animal attack lawsuit.  Public awareness of such dangers was raised after the fatal tiger mauling at the San Francisco Zoo earlier this year.  The family of that victim is suing the city of San Francisco.
The Tyke Committee believes that people would be shocked about the history's of some of the circuses that have visited Monterey County in recent years, such as Circus Gatti, who performed at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in 2007 and that people should educate themselves by searching youtube for Stop Circus Suffering and watching the Animal Defenders International documentary on circuses or by visiting
"All animals in a traveling show environment suffer.  The fact that tigers and bears and lions are confined to a 4' x 6' cage for almost their entire lives, including in the off season, and that most circus elephants, horses and camels are chained or tethered, almost immobile, for up to 90% of their lives, is heartbreaking enough", says Founder and Co-Chair of the Tyke Ordinance, Rhonda Somerton, "But then to be beaten, neglected and abused?  That's too much.  I don't think residents of Monterey County would stand for this if they knew the truth of what goes on under the big top when the lights go down.  How cans any feeling person not want to protect these animals from a life in a 4' x 6' cage, which is simply maddening?  Much less physical abuse, which is illegal under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).  The Tyke ordinance would at least assure that these very minimal standards under the AWA are met by acts visiting Monterey County". 
Contact: Rhonda Somerton, Co-Chair, Tyke Ordinance Committee
            Circus Gatti Factsheet:
            Ringling USDA records, including baby elephant issues:

Proposed Ordinance:

Ordinance No. ____________

An Ordinance of the County of __________ Relating to Permit Regulations for the Exhibition and Display of Inherently Dangerous Wild Animals

The County of _____________ has approved on ___________, a schedule of requirements that apply to traveling shows  that involves inherently dangerous wild animal, as defined below. For purposes of this ordinance traveling show means any mobile or stationary act, circus, public show, trade show, photographic opportunity, carnival, city or county fair, agricultural fair, ride, parade, race, performance, or similar undertaking in which inherently dangerous wild animals do not permanently reside or that moves inherently dangerous wild animals from location to location, but not including a person that keeps inherently dangerous wild animals at a permanent site and is transporting the animals for the purpose of medical services needed for the animals.

"Inherently Dangerous Wild animal" means any animal of the class Mammalia (mammals) including but not limited to elephants, wild cats, nonhuman primates, bears, wolves, any animal of the class Reptilia only including venomous species; and any mammal or reptile which the owner knows or reasonably should know has a propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack, cause injury, or otherwise endanger the safety of the public or other animals

The required actions or document submittals described below must be satisfied by applicant(s) two weeks prior to issuance of a permit. In the event a permit is issued, failure to maintain these requirements during the permitted activity will be cause for revocation of the permit.  Where documents are required below, written copies must be produced to the Animal Services Division of the Monterey County Health Department and retained by the department through the duration of the permitted activity.

Applicants must meet the following conditions:                                                                                                  

1.    If the exhibition or display is on county owned property or is sponsored by the county, at minimum, the applicant must agree to indemnify and defend the County, and to provide liability insurance with an insurer authorized or approved to write such insurance in California, that covers claims for injury or damage to persons or property in an amount of not less than one million dollars per occurrence, and which names the County as an additional insured. A copy of the insurance rider must be provided. If the exhibition is not on and does not involve County-owned property or sponsorship, the policy must be with an insurer authorized or approved to write such insurance in California in the amount of two million dollars that covers claims for injury or damage to persons or property in an amount of not less than one million dollars per occurrence.

2.    Submit documented proof that within the past twelve months a trunk wash culture was performed on each elephant on display and  the elephant was tested free of Tuberculosis.  Multiple Antigen Print Immunoassay test results are also acceptable and preferred.

3.    Submit a written plan for the quick and safe recapture or destruction of an inherently dangerous wild animal in the event an animal escapes. The plan must include but not be limited to:

     0. The applicant's written protocols for training their staff on methods of safe recapture of escaped wild animals, and

     0. A description of barriers, security, signage, staffing, fencing, protocols and other measures taken for the public's safety.

     0. A detailed description of containment methods for the animal(s), and

     0. Access to appropriate chemical immobilization drugs and equipment, and

     0. Identification of staff member(s) (and as appropriate, veterinarians) who possess firearm and chemical immobilization proficiency to recapture an escaped wild animal.

4.    Disclose previous incidents of specific dangerous, unpredictable, or aggressive behavior by any of the animals, that put any people or other animals at risk, including the animal handler(s). 

5.    Disclose all current and most recent names and ages of all animals.

6.    Produce health histories, which shall include health records and/or as appropriate health certificates, for all animals.

7.    Applicant, applicant's principles, officers, directors, and employees have no felony convictions.  

8.    Applicant must meet the following conditions:

a.            Applicant has not been cited within 3 years by USDA under the Animal Welfare Act for 1) inappropriate provision of veterinary care 2) inappropriate handling of animals causing stress or trauma 3) inappropriate provision of food, water, shelter or space.

b.   Will comply with all applicable Federal law for the duration of the activity if permitted. 

9.    Must not have any official notices of alleged violations; or any stipulations, consent decrees, or settlements entered into with the USDA within the last 5 years and disclose any known pending investigations that are being conducted by the USDA.

10. Applicant must meet an informed consent provision by providing written information explaining that an inherently dangerous wild animal(s) will be or is present and there is risk of injury or death to:

     0.                   The property owner or person responsible for the property where the animal will be displayed;

     0.                   The owners or persons responsible for any contiguous neighboring property;

     0.                   Any individuals entering the site of the permitted animal display.

Written information shall be prominently displayed and highly visible to the public. The information can be either a handout or flyer handed to persons listed above or a poster located at all entrances to the performance area, in and around the performance area, and where the wild animal(s) is located.

11.      Must produce a plan for providing emergency veterinary care in a timely fashion          including names and contact information of available on-call veterinarians, if none are present on-site.


12.      Produce a copy of and maintain a valid resident or non-resident permit, as applicable, with the California Fish and Game Department, for the duration of the permitted activity.


13.      Have no convictions for violations of California state law including but not limited to Penal Code §597, Penal Code §596.5, Health & Safety Code 25989.1, and California Code of Regulations, Title 14 Section 671 or any laws or regulations involving permitted animals in the last three years, and be in compliance with applicable California law and County ordinances in handling inherently dangerous wild animals for the duration of the permitted activity.


14.      Applicant and its sub-contractors, subordinate handlers, California Fish and Game permit holders, or others engaged by Applicant to provide and handle animals covered under this schedule of requirements for the permitted activity, must provide or maintain all required documentation and comply with all conditions of the permit.


15.      Applicant shall disclose to the department the name of any sub-contractor or others engaged by applicant to provide and handle animals covered by the permitted activity.


16.      Applicant agrees under penalty of perjury that the information submitted with this application is true, correct and complete.

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