State needs law to protect circus elephants

December 4, 2009
By

The following letter is adapted from testimony delivered to the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, chaired by local Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, on Nov. 16 regarding Senate Bill 1870, “An Act Relating to the Treatment of Elephants.”

I became concerned about elephants in circuses when I saw video footage initially on ABC News and, more recently, on NBC of handlers abusing elephants. I saw a Ringling Brothers handler dragging an elephant behind the ear with a bullhook. The elephant was screaming in pain.

With the subsequent research I did, I learned that the status quo for controlling circus elephants is not only hooking them with a tool called an ankus but restraining them over long periods of time with chains. I discovered that an elephant’s instinct is to roam 30 to 50 miles a day. Not only does the chaining deprive the elephant of the mental stimulation it would find in its natural habitat, but it leads to severe foot problems, arthritis and, in many cases, osteomyelitis—a chronic bone infection.

The information I gathered about the industry standard for treating elephants made me wonder: If I had a neighbor who kept an elephant chained in a garage 22 hours a day on a concrete floor—day after day after day, wouldn’t I consider this inhumane, even cruel? Wouldn’t I be compelled to do something? Wouldn’t I call the police?

Considering how we treat elephants in circuses led me to speak with constituents in your neighborhoods. I went to Salem, Worcester, Great Barrington, Dedham and different parts of Boston, including Roslindale, West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. In a short period of time, I collected well over 500 signatures in favor of the bill that would protect elephants from the bullhook and from constant chaining.

I am aware that the circus lobby is powerful. The signatures I collected, however, show that Massachusetts voters want SB 1870 passed through committee favorably.

I urge you to support your constituents with your vote.

Jacqueline Gambarini
Jamaica Plain