San Francisco board approves wild animal performance ban

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has voted unanimously to ban performances of wild or exotic animals for public entertainment, including appearances in circuses or on the sets of movies, television shows and commercials.

A worker climbs to the top of a circus tent in San Francisco, California in this file photo from November 13, 2007. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The measure, approved 11-0 by the board on Tuesday and expected to be enacted in a final vote next week, would make San Francisco the largest city to adopt such a sweeping prohibition on the commercial use of wild animals for public amusement, supporters said.

The ordinance would not apply to domesticated animals, including dogs, cats, horses and other livestock or pets. Educational activities or exhibitions accredited by certain zoological and museum organizations would also be exempt.

But the measure bars any public showing, carnival, fair, parade, petting zoo, ride, race, film shoot or other undertaking in which wild or exotic animals “are required to perform tricks, fight or participate as accompaniments for the entertainment, amusement or benefit of an audience.”

Wild and exotic animals are defined as any non-domestic or hybrid creature, whether or not it was bred in captivity.

At least eight smaller California municipalities have enacted broad circus bans, while Los Angeles and Oakland have moved to effectively prohibit elephant performances by outlawing bullhooks and other implements used to control the animals.

The bullhook bans in Los Angeles, Oakland and dozens of other cities across the country led America’s oldest and largest traveling circus, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, to announce last month that it was phasing elephants out of its act by 2018.

A spokesman for Ringling Bros.’ parent company, Feld Entertainment, called San Francisco’s ordinance and similar measures passed elsewhere “completely unnecessary,” saying all circuses are tightly regulated.

“We are subject to open, unannounced, frequent inspections by local, state and federal officials, not only in California, but everywhere we go,” spokesman Stephen Payne said.

Ringling Bros. will be unaffected by the San Francisco ordinance because none of its Bay Area appearances takes place within city limits, Payne said.

Supervisor Katy Tang, a sponsor of the measure, acknowledged it may discourage film and TV productions from coming to San Francisco, but they were not exempted because “we don’t want to undermine the underlying message of our legislation that animal abuse is not going to be tolerated.”

The board also approved a resolution supporting a proposed statewide bullhook ban introduced recently in the California legislature.

Reporting by Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Writing and additional reporting in Los Angeles by Steve Gorman; Editing by Sandra Maler