Column: ‘Thrill circus’ a win for the Aad Shrine, children and animalsDuluth is a special place to experience spring. But spring in Duluth has also become associated with a tradition which, in contrast to the energizing effect of birds singing and budding trees, left me feeling sad and depressed — the exotic animal acts included in the annual Aad Shrine Circus.
By: Reyna Crow, For the Budgeteer News
Duluth is a special place to experience spring. The breaking ice on Lake Superior presents amazing visual patterns, and the creeks, swollen with melted snow, sound as beautiful as they look. But spring in Duluth has also become associated with another tradition which, in contrast to the energizing effect of longer days, birds singing and budding trees, left me feeling sad and depressed — the exotic animal acts included in the annual Aad Shrine Circus.
Traveling acts featuring exotic animals such as tigers and elephants are criticized by numerous animal protection organizations. “Exotic animal acts are a concern for two major reasons,” said Christine Coughlin, president of Minnesota Voters For Animal Protection. “The unavoidable necessity of intensive confinement, because acts are on the road all the time ... and the routinely abusive training and handling practices that have been revealed by undercover investigation ... which animals are exposed to long-term, create physical and psychological problems.”
Municipalities or counties in more than a dozen states have enacted ordinances or other restrictions on animal acts in traveling shows, variously citing both animal welfare and public safety considerations.
In November 2011 the USDA announced that it reached a settlement with Feld Entertainment, operators of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, in which Feld agreed to pay a civil penalty of $270,000 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act alleged to have occurred between 2007 and 2011. (http://www.usda.gov/ wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2011/11/0494.xml).
“Every year there are picketers” at the circus, said Dan Russell, executive director of the DECC, which hosts the Aad Shrine Circus.
This year promises to be very different. There will be “no exotic animals in the circus this year” according to Ryan Kern, 2013 circus chairman for the Aad Shrine. In what Kern describes as part of a “diversification of circuses in general,” he is planning to focus on what he calls a “thrill circus” for the first time this year, designed to “leave people on the edge of their seats,” with many different new things such as motorcycle acts and an “Enchanted Tea Party” as being indicative of the “evolution of where the circus is going.”
“If they do not bring exotic animals as part of their show, that is a wonderful and humane step for the Aad Shrine to take. But according to the website advertising the show, it appears that animals will be a part of this year’s circus, and in that case we would encourage the Aad Shrine to bring a non-animal circus to Duluth next year,” said Coughlin. With respect to the advertising, Kern explained that the promotional material used for the upcoming
circus tends to reflect the acts that appeared the year before.
“PETA applauds the Shrine Circus for making the compassionate decision to stop using exotic animals. We hope that other Shrine Circuses will follow suit,” said Delcianna Winders, director of captive animal law enforcement for the group, when told of the plan for a circus without exotic animal-acts in Duluth this year. Winders said she has gotten reports of other circuses that traditionally feature exotic animal acts forgoing them this year.
“Circus Spectacular,” which Kern says the Aad Shrine contracted with in 2013, appears to be part of the same Ringling Circus that settled with the USDA over allegations of Animal Welfare Act violations. However, if in fact this year’s Aad Shrine Circus does not include wild animals treated as objects of amusement, it is a significant step toward becoming the kind of family event we can all be proud of and feel comfortable taking part in, and should be encouraged. Since the event is a fundraiser, it seems that the Aad Shrine has an incentive to be responsive to feedback about the new “thrill circus” it is reportedly trying this year. If you’ve avoided the event in the past, consider attending this year and giving the Shriners some feedback about your experience. Let’s help them create an event which is a win for the Aad Shrine, area kids and the animals.
Duluthian Reyna Crow has a degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin.