Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vote on exotic-animal ban due

Committee today mulls report on barring circus creatures

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A tiger leaps over its handler at the Super  Spring Break Circus at the MTS Centre in March.

JESSICA BURTNICK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

A tiger leaps over its handler at the Super Spring Break Circus at the MTS Centre in March. Photo Store

The Winnipeg Jets won't be hosting as many (Florida) Panthers next year. You know, division realignment and all.

And if the Winnipeg Humane Society has its way, the MTS Centre won't play host to any more lions, tigers or elephants, either.

A report that urges the city to ban circuses from using exotic animals is in a new responsible-pet-ownership bylaw to be considered by the protection and community services committee today.

If passed, the civic legislation will outlaw a practice local animal activists have been fighting for more than two decades: no more dancing bears, lions jumping through hoops or elephant conga lines.

And the Winnipeg Humane Society's chief executive officer has his target set on one last trophy to mount on his wall: the Super Spring Break Circus, which was held last March at the MTS Centre.

Bill McDonald remains upset that True North officials -- the parent company of the Jets -- recently sponsored the show, which featured animals from the Bowmanville Zoo (Southern Ontario) including baboons, elephants, buffalo and a lion.

No panthers.

"No, we didn't like that," McDonald fumed on Wednesday. "Suddenly, hockey guys are into the circus? What, they didn't have enough money from the hockey games?"

McDonald said the number of circuses coming to town has been dwindling. Recent years have seen some organizations -- such as the Shrine Circus and Red River Exhibition -- eliminate the use of exotic animals at their events, largely due to protests and negative publicity.

"It just isn't worth the aggravation," said Ross Holt, a spokesman for the Shriners local chapter. "We're out of it now. There were just too many headaches and hassles."

Holt said the Shrine Circus in Winnipeg last year featured ponies and sheepdogs. "Those were our exotic animals," he said.

The Red River Exhibition has in the past featured exhibitions of sharks and lions. Not anymore.

Now, Exhibition organizers work with the humane society to bring in shows with groups such as the Manitoba Mutts Rescue Foundation, the Canadian Kennel Club and the Manitoba Cat Club. The Exhibition also had a interactive display with farm animals, including sheep, alpacas, ducks and horses.

"We're trying to change our program to feature agricultural awareness," said Jodi Johnson, communications and marketing manager for the Ex.

"It's trying to be relevant to the people coming to the Exhibition. It's really a natural for us. Families are really wanting that educational hands-on experience."

McDonald is hoping the bylaw will be passed and believes much of society is ahead of the curve in terms of rejecting the use of wild animals as entertainment. To date, 27 other Canadian municipalities restrict the use of exotic animals in circuses.

"They can defend it till the cows come home," he said, predicting push-back from circus operators. "But how do you train a bear to stand on its hind legs? You touch its nose with a piece of hot iron."

While animal trainers' methods might not be so heavy-handed as using hot irons anymore, McDonald says the transportation and caging for travelling shows is unacceptable. "It's all about entertainment and money," he said. "That's not natural and not right."

Added McDonald: "We've been against this from a way back. In fairness to the Shriners, they saw the light. They understand that many parents don't want their children to be witness to wild animals used as entertainment."

Kevin Donnelly, senior vice-president and general manager of True North, said veterinarians were on hand during the circus in March to observe and check the animals.

"We're entitled to put on any presentation that meets community standards," Donnelly said. "If things change, we'll live within them."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2013 0

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