Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stage set for exotic-animal ban

City council expected to prohibit use in circuses here

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The final curtain appears to have closed in Winnipeg on what's become a controversial form of entertainment: circus performances featuring exotic animals.

Earlier this week, the MTS Centre hosted three performances of Super Spring Break Circus, a touring show featuring acrobats, clowns, jugglers, aerialists and what True North Sports & Entertainment described as "an array of exotic and well-treated animals from all over the world."

The fact True North felt compelled to assure circus-goers of the welfare of the creatures in question is a testament to the level of discomfort surrounding touring menageries, which have been accused of cruelty by both animal-rights activists and mainstream animal-welfare organizations such as the Winnipeg Humane Society.

According to a report prepared by the City of Winnipeg's Animal Services special operating agency, 27 Canadian municipalities have passed legislation that restricts the use of exotic animals in circuses.

Winnipeg is expected to follow suit in May, when councillors consider a new responsible-animal bylaw. If approved, circuses in Winnipeg "will only be able to exhibit or use dogs, cats, commercial animals" and other non-exotic beasts.

That means performances such as Super Spring Break Circus, which included an elephant and baboons, will no longer be possible in Winnipeg.

"We're coming up to the same standard as other cities. I don't think it's unreasonable," said St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, who chairs council's protection and community services committee.

Although proposed to council in January, the new bylaw was laid over due to widespread dissatisfaction within the animal-services industry regarding proposed rules about house cats. Fielding expects an amended bylaw to continue to include the provisions governing exotic animals, albeit with one amendment: the chief operating officer of Animal Services may be handed the authority to grant a special permit for an exotic animal to visit the city.

"I wasn't crazy about the wording," Fielding said. "I thought there could be a way to look at things on a case-by-case basis."

That change, however, is not intended to serve as a loophole to continue to allow circuses to employ exotic animals, he pledged.

Animal Services COO Leland Gordon was not available for comment about the future of circus performances in Winnipeg. His earlier report to council suggested promoters will adjust by booking circuses that focus on human entertainers or non-exotic animals.

"Contact with local organizations that sponsor circuses suggest that this would not entail a significant change from current practice," the report stated.

In any event, what likely was the final exotic-animal circus performance in Winnipeg was accompanied by what may have been the city's final anti-circus demonstration. Five members of the Humane Education Network stood outside MTS Centre Wednesday to protest against the use of exotic animals by the Super Spring Break Circus.

"These animals are only being trained by fear, abuse and a lack of food," said Janice Pennington, one of the demonstrators. "These are not natural behaviours... It's sad we find it funny to see an elephant standing on a ball."

Officials with True North Sports & Entertainment were unavailable to comment.


-- With files from Ken Gigliotti

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2013 A3

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