* SPECIAL MENTION: Thank you to Amber Hall for all her hard work in getting this ban in place!
Lismore City Council will send a clear message that cruelty to animals will not be tolerated in the shire after they voted 7/3 to ban animal circuses from Council-owned land.
In an impassioned speech to his notice of motion on Tuesday night, Cr Gianpiero Battista said it was a question of how “we want to portray ourselves in the future”.
“We are looking at adopting a shire-wide plan for the koala. In terms of image for Council it doesn’t make sense that we then allow other animals to come to Lismore in cages,” Cr Battista said. “It is very unnatural. It is not natural for tigers, lions, elephants to live in very limited spaces.
“There is no need to have animals for our entertainment. The Moscow Circus has no animals, the Cirque du Soleil is very good entertainment without animals, using people and light and sound.
“Imagine if other countries had koalas jumping in and out of hoops – we’d do something.
“Elephants, lions and tigers are protected species. We can do something about this. We can send a message that circuses that use animals are not welcome in Lismore.”
Earlier in public access time animal activist and law student Amber Hall told councillors the issue of animals in circuses was at “the heart of our morality” and gave a vivid description of the conditions in which the animals are procured and kept.
“Elephants are taken from their mothers’ teats in the wild. Often their families are slaughtered to get to the baby,” Ms Hall said.
“We have the power to make policy and courts do and can listen.
“I’m not naive enough to think we can change the world but we do have the power to influence the decisions of people in our community.
“Cruelty degrades humankind. With every single decision we make or fail to make we influence the world. Constantly transporting animals in small cages is cruel and it’s wrong.”
Ms Hall said 38 councils across Australia had bylaws banning animal circuses and they were no longer allowed in the ACT.
Cr Peter Graham said a similar motion had been put to Council a year ago and he hoped this one was headed for similar defeat.
“Just banning circuses from Council-owned land pushes them on to private land. It gives a half-hearted message,” he said. “People have the power of choice. If circuses are to survive then they have to do the right thing.
“Some people like the opportunity to see elephants jump*, tigers jump through hoops or someone put their head in a lion’s mouth.
“If circuses are to survive they need finance and if they do the right thing people will attend.
“I have big concerns that if we start down this track what next? Are we going to ban the snake show at our local shows because the snakes are handled on hooks? If we see someone with a dog pulling on a lead are we going to say ‘that’s cruel, you have to let him go’?
“What would [TV vet] Dr Harry say? He can’t come to Lismore with another cat show.”
Cr Simon Clough said animal circuses were an anachronism and, with access to beautifully-filmed nature documentaries, people didn’t need animal circuses as a form of entertainment.
“Choice is not just what humans choose but what about the animals? What choice do they have about spending their whole lives in prison and being trained in ways we now know are cruel and quite barbaric?” Cr Clough said. “We should, as a community, take leadership here and say no to animal circuses.”
Cr Neil Marks presented a thin-edge-of-the-wedge argument and pointed out all sorts of animals are used for human entertainment.
“Greyhounds; horses are kept in very small enclosures at the race track and for dressage; are we going to ban bull-riding from our area as well?” Cr Marks asked. “Will chooks be next? What about pigeon fanciers?
“We should accept some people want to see circuses and let people see animal entertainment if they want to.”
Cr Graham Meineke suggested some people might see Lismore City Council as a circus.
Cr Isaac Smith pointed out there was a big difference between a lion and a horse.
“You can’t just throw a lion into a backyard or spell it in a paddock,” Cr Smith said.
In his right of reply Cr Battista appealed directly to Cr Marks as a new parent.
“You have a little baby boy; you’re going to quietly watch Nemo and The Lion King with him and he’ll see animals looking proud in their natural environment, then you’re going to take him to the circus and watch animals perform? What kind of educational tool is that? How are you going to teach him to respect animals and their rights?” Cr Battista said. “There are things that have been done in the past that aren’t right and it’s time to change them.”
Cr Smith pointed out The Lion King was a singing lion and perhaps an unlikely example of realistic wildlife.
Eventually, Council rolled up and voted 6/3 (Crs Meineke, Marks and Graham against, Chant absent) to bring down the big top.
* Elephants actually can’t jump because of their physical dimensions.
Story by Rudi Maxwell.
An elephant is forced to stand on its head at a circus.
Photo courtesy of animalcircuses.com and the Captive Animals’ Protection Society.