Most serious discussions emanating from the Anaheim City Council chambers of late involve bulls on parade, but Councilwoman Lorri Galloway carved out some time Tuesday night to talk about elephants on parade, calling for a city ordinance to ban the use of exotic animals within city limits. Though broadly worded, such a law would predominantly target the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus that moves into the Honda Center every summer with performing lions, tigers and, of course, pachyderms.
For years, animal-rights activists have tried to get the city to stop circus animal performances, and for the past couple they have had Galloway's ear. And eyes. In July 2010, after Born Free USA representatives shared with the Anaheim council photos that allegedly depicted the abuse of baby elephants, Galloway said the pictures showed some "terrible, terrible things" and called on the city manager to return with a report detailing how circus animals are treated.
However, striking a diplomatic tone back then, Galloway also said she supported circuses, which are "part of Americana" and can bring audiences "excitement."
The diplomatic tone is gone now. In recent years, Galloway was part of a group that took a backstage tour of the Ringling Bros. circus, where she was shown the way its care of animals meets government standards. Before the goodbyes, she essentially said Ringling Bros. conducts its business correctly but she still opposes using animals for entertainment, according to observers.
Galloway's mind was thus already made up when she and her council colleagues were greeted Tuesday night by animal activists who went to the mic with allegations of elephant abuse by Ringling Bros.
The councilwoman then cleared her throat and preached to the choir.
"What I've seen, the methods used to make a wild animal stand on its head for entertainment, has sickened me," Galloway said. "I know it's considered part of Americana to have elephants in circuses, but it's time for change."
She was cheered by the critter crusaders.
"I think it would be a huge move for the city of Anaheim," an emboldened Galloway said of prohibiting performing animals. "Other cities have bans on exotic animals, but they aren't Anaheim. They don't have the Honda Center. It would send a loud message." Those other cities in Orange County include Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Santa Ana, which last year tightened rules at its zoo that essentially killed an elephant ride attraction. The Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa also ended elephant rides with the same contractor just before the start of its run that ended earlier this month.
Groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have helped shape public sentiment--and, by extension, the actions of municipal leaders--by staging showy protests to accompany circuses coming to town. Some have featured "naked" women painted up as animals and "locked" in cages with provocative signs and poses for delighted cameramen.
Even more comically, a protestor at the Staples Center in July put a "hex" on a Ringling Bros. team member who at the time was eight months pregnant. The Honda Center shows were sandwiched between Los Angeles and Ontario engagements.
Less comically, as my colleague R. Scott Moxley reported last month, the city of Anaheim settled a federal police brutality suit brought by an Orange County man who claimed city cops roughed him up during a 2010 protest of the Ringling Bros. shows at the Honda Center. Terms were not disclosed.
A draft ordinance that would require the support of two other Anaheim council members besides Galloway is expected to come back to the dais in September.
The council can expect a strong push back from Feld Entertainment, the owner of several attractions that tour the planet, including the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Strongly denying the circus abuses animals, Feld officials routinely point reporters like this one to its wildlife sanctuary in Florida and websites that document the corporation's care for animals in between shows and on the road, where they are well fed, bathed daily and carried in custom, ventilated rail cars.
The animals are always under the watchful eyes of trained animal experts with years of experience, according to circus officials, who note that veterinarians are also on the job around the clock. Licensing, inspections and regulation by local, state and federal animal-care agencies are just part of doing business.
Take the most recent Southern California swing. Before trains rolled into Anaheim for Ringling Bros.' 10-day engagement at the Honda Center that ended earlier this month, U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors had been on site in Los Angeles, according to Stephen Payne, Feld Entertainment vice president of Corporate Communications.
In Anaheim, state inspectors were on hand "a lot," Payne tells the Weekly, adding the close federal and California scrutiny resulted in "perfect inspections, no issues."
He believes city officials around the country like Galloway are being egged on PETA, which wants to shut down the circus altogether.
"This is just part of their agenda, to keep pushing this," Payne said. "They keep saying their list of jurisdictions is growing. That's not true. Ten million people per year come to the circus, and one person from PETA complains."
He says Anaheim leaders should focus more on what circus lovers bring to town versus the PETA crowd. Feld has conducted economic studies in cities around the country where the circus performs. For its recently concluded two weeks in Anaheim, the circus pumped $1 million into the local economy, according to Payne.
That not only includes the obvious, like facility rental and ticket, refreshment and souvenir sales, but taxes, hiring local workers, buying local feed for the animals, food and lodging for touring employees and more, he noted.
At the council meeting, Galloway swore her ordinance would not necessarily kill the circus, pointing to the touring Circus Vargas and Cirque du Soleil shows that succeed without using exotic animals.
"I think Ringling Bros. could do the same," Galloway said. "They need to acclimate the same way. Children think circus and they still want to come, whether elephants are in the show or not."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
I asked Payne if Ringling Bros. could still draw the crowds without performing elephants.
He essentially answered it's a moot question.
"We're not going to find out because elephants have been part of the entire history of Ringling Bros.," Payne said. "It's the No. 1 reason people go to our shows. Get rid of the elephants? Never!"