MFOA and the four year circus elephant ban campaign

Maine Adopts Rules and Regulations for Circus Elephants


(Falmouth) …. Maine will become the first state to pass legislation to address the treatment of performing elephants. A three year effort by Maine Friends of Animals (MFOA) and “Elephant Free in 2003” culminated with legislation that requires the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources to adopt rules regarding the care and treatment of elephants. Maine would be the first state to require specific guidelines for the care of elephants to be put into law. MFOA and animal activists in Maine have long contended circus elephants’ lives are miserably inhumane. “When romanticizing the circus with wild elephants, three basic facts are concealed — the excessive and abusive training, the terrible life and conditions when not performing and the sad disposition of the animal after it is no longer useful to the circus,” said campaign coordinator, Suzanne Carr. Supporters of the legislation have pointed to the fact that elephants spend the vast majority of their time in chains. This wild animal that normally roams 20 miles a day spends much of its life traveling in a truck or boxcar chained at the ankle living in its own feces and urine. No light. No heat if cold. No AC if it is hot.

Some of these practices will now be in violation of the new rules that will be written by the Agriculture Department and Animal Welfare Department. The rules will specifically be based on the federal Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Services Guidelines (APHIS). These federal guidelines will be written into law in Maine. The amended bill awaits the likely signature of the governor.

The bill was originally introduced in the 120th legislative session by So. Portland Representative Chris Muse. In 2001 the “elephant bill” became the first in the nation to have the House pass such legislation, by a margin of 85-53. It then lost in the Senate, which was subsequently lobbied by Feld Industry, parent company to Ringling Brothers. But almost immediately after the session, Maine animal activists formed “Elephant Free in 2003” and continued their effort to get the landmark legislation passed this session.

“This was an organized and continuous effort to work with the legislative process to bring about animal protection legislation,” said MFOA president and director, Robert Fisk, Jr. “We are very encouraged that other states are likely to take Maine’s lead and also pass legislation that will end the plight of these magnificent, intelligent and social animals.”

Portland Press Herald, June, 2006


                                       Rules For the Care and Treatment of Elephants

President & Director of Maine Friends of Animals
Rules pertaining to L.D. 327  
December 9, 2005

Rules and Regulations Relating to Animal Welfare

In 2000 animal advocates came together in Maine to address what they considered one of the more egregious forms of animal cruelty; that of being a circus elephant. Our campaign raised public awareness of how a circus elephant is trained, kept, used and disposed of. It is an unusually cruel and miserable existence for such a free roaming, intelligent, social, gentle giant. The campaign culminated with the Maine House of Representatives voting (88-58) in favor of a bill to ban any performing elephants in the state. Unfortunately it lost in the Senate. But the advocates continued their campaign for two more years and re-introduced the same legislation in 2003, L.D. 327 “An Act to Prevent Elephant Abuse”, which brings us to today. The rules before us are reasonable and minimal in which the circus industry must adhere to while in the state. These rules reflect the standards of the APHIS and the US Department of Agriculture in the care and treatment of animals. It is hard for me to understand what possibly could be the reason the circus industry is here today to oppose these rules. They are rules they already are suppose to be operating under.   

What this legislative directive does is to say we here in Maine take these standards seriously and we expect them to be abided by. One might argue why do we need these state rules if they are essentially covered under APHIS and the USDA. Because this is not a bureaucratic overreach, it is emphasizing rules on an industry that repeatedly has been in violation of what are only minimal animal welfare standards.  

I submit these lists with my testimony which document circus industry violations, and as you will see they continue. Laws within the federal Animal Welfare Act are poorly enforced and violations are rarely prosecuted. There are about 100 inspectors to inspect over 12,000 licensed animal exhibitors, breeders and haulers, yet circuses are still continually cited for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. So we have a critically under funded and understaffed inspection operation on the federal level, the minimal of animal welfare laws and yet this industry is here trying to anything to will keep their operation from the public light. But even the most humane conditions could never make this outdated form of entertainment acceptable. This November 13, 2005 Knight Ridder news article I am submitting cites the industry’s abysmal record with the USDA and is entitled “As animal acts become passé, many circuses fold up tents.” 

So back to my original question. Why is the circus industry here today? Throughout their testimony against L.D. 327 they claimed how well their animals were treated and cared for. Then why would they possibly be against operating under the most minimal of animal welfare standards that these rules represent if they care so much for their animals?  

I am also submitting a fact Sheet entitled “Know What the Circus Industry Does Not Want you to Know” and “The Circus Industry Positions and the Facts Behind the Opposition Arguments.” I will not take up your time going over them, but these fact sheets lay out the false arguments the industry uses to protect this outdated form of entertainment that an enlightened society should have banned a long time ago. As public awareness continues to grow about the plight of circus elephants in how they are trained, kept and disposed of when no longer useful, and as circuses without captive wildlife continue to grow in popularity, the industry that is here today to fight even these basic standards of animal welfare will cease to exist. But in the meantime it is essential we take action now to reduce the animal suffering as much as we can. These rules go a small, but important way in assuring a more humane existence for these magnificent animals. Rules Maine animal advocates will monitor closely.  

We commend the Animal Welfare Program Director and the Department for assembling these rules for such things as indoor and outdoor facilities, space requirements, feeding/watering/sanitation, transportation requirements, record keeping and proper handling and inspection of elephants. They are in no way overreaching and in fact reflect the standards of APHIS. We support the proposed rules, but we would like to propose a few additions for your consideration. 

1.  Under Facilities, indoor we think the ambient temperatures for heating and cooling should have specific temperatures. A suggested replacement of “…to protect the elephants from extremes of temperature” would be “indoor holding areas and transport vehicles be heated to a minimum temperature of at least 55 degrees F and cooled when temperatures exceed 80 degrees F.

2.  Under Facilities, outdoor we would suggest a section entitled ‘perimeter fence’. All outdoor housing facilities must be enclosed by a perimeter fence that is sufficient height to keep animals in and unauthorized persons out. Fences should be at least 8 feet high for potentially dangerous animals, which elephants have been classified by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. After years of constant confinement in miserable conditions elephants have been known to attack and rampage. This is a public safety issue and outdoor containment fences should be included in the rules.

3.  Under space requirements we feel the enclosures should be given some numerical delineation. We would suggest that enclosures be a minimum of 400 sq. ft. for each elephant indoors, and outdoor yards must have 1,800 sq. ft. for each adult individual and an additional 900 sq. ft. must be added for each additional animal.  

4.  Under Proper Handling #5 we think there is no reason to be using an electrical device for any reason and the section that says “except as an emergency safety device to protect keepers/handlers or elephants from injury” should be removed.

5.  An important provision listed in the original L.D. 327 language was the reporting of the circus’s itinerary while in the state. This is not an uncommon request and does not have to be an application, but a simple list of when and where they will be in the state. The list would be provided to the Department of Agriculture, specifically the Animal Welfare Program, at least two months prior to entering the state.

6.  Finally an original draft of these rules included a section on enforcement that included language about inspection and examination. I am not sure why they have not been included in the final draft, but this is a major issue that is absolutely essential if these rules are to be meaningful. There needs to be some language added that states that “a state humane agent, animal control officer, Department of Agriculture agent, or veterinarian employed by the state or a licensed veterinarian at the direction of the commissioner, who receives no compensation from or is employed by the animal owner or operator, be able to enter an area where an elephant is kept or a compartment in which the elephant is transported to inspect for compliance with these rules and regulations. [Like USDA regulations] These inspections should be unannounced and unbiased.” 

Without unannounced inspections the violations can be easily covered up. We strongly urge some inspection and examination language be added. An enforcement section should also include what recourse the Department will have if violations and non-compliance become egregious or repeated.   

We thank the Director for her work in assembling these rules for the care and treatment of elephants. We believe it shows Maine takes animal welfare and animal cruelty seriously and that we expect the same of those who enter our state with animals.              





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