By Lori Kern and Roxanne Story Parks
In March, the San Diego County Democratic Party passed a resolution seeking to prohibit the use of exotic and wild animals in traveling circuses and exhibitions. On its face, that seems like a wonderful thing to do. Who doesn’t want to protect animals?
While the purpose of this resolution is altruistic, its scope is overly broad. The Party did not take input from animal professionals or the regulatory agencies that oversee the animals and their habitats, and therefore, the resolution assumes all wild animals in captivity are treated inhumanely.
It vilifies reputable animal groups who travel to exhibit exotic and wild animals for educational and fund-raising purposes. We all love animals and are concerned about their welfare, but the language, as written, will destroy the livelihoods of the people who care for animals and the lives of the animals we seek to protect.
The resolution implies that all wild animals in captivity suffer, that they are transported in undersized cages and spend inhumane amounts of time in captivity, and that they are “coerced to perform tricks” through “methods most would view as tortuous.” No evidence is cited, and no exemptions are given for responsible wildlife organizations, many of which care for rescued, seized, or relinquished animals that cannot be returned to the wild. There wasn’t even any discussion before the resolution was passed.
Many of the animal organizations affected are licensed and regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The USDA requires traveling animal exhibitors to file travel itineraries, and animal exhibitors are required to be open for inspection at all times by the USDA, animal control, and local humane societies.
Those who love animals should be happy to know that these regulatory agencies are not underfunded and they perform regular inspections by surprise visit. Local organizations like Wild Wonders and Project Wildlife jump through hoops required by three regulatory agencies for transporting and exhibiting animals.
Former County Democratic Party Chair, Jess Durfee, author of the resolution, said it is really about an elephant organization in California—but not in San Diego County. The resolution does not mention them by name, nor does it say anything about elephants, but we know they are considering leaving the state and going to one where regulations are much looser. This will not help the elephants.
In reality, these “wild” animals bond to their owners and handlers—as our pets bond with us. Owners and handlers love their animals. These animal organizations educate the public and foster concern for wildlife and good stewardship of the environment. But, entertainment and travel constitute the major part of their fundraising, which is needed to care for the animals.
For example, Wild Wonders, a wildlife education organization in Bonsall that takes in seized and relinquished animals, must raise at least $265,000 a year, just to cover the costs of feeding and providing veterinary care. Without the ability to transport the animals to educational outreach events and fundraisers, they would have to close their doors.
If this resolution becomes law at the city, county or state level, many wonderful (and highly-regulated) organizations that provide human/animal interaction in San Diego County will lose their ability to raise money to care for their animals. No consideration has been given to what would happen to the animals under their care should this happen.
Our ability to encounter and interact with wild animals fosters empathy for the animals remaining in the wild, and for the conservation efforts needed to preserve them. If we eliminate our ability to see wild and exotic animals, and limit our animal education to books and video, we are likely to lose our compassion for the animals left in the wild.
In order to prevent this resolution from becoming law, a new, much more reasonable resolution will be presented to the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee at its June 16 meeting. It will rescind and replace the current one. Please vote in favor.
To read the full text of the March resolution, go to: http://www.sddemocrats.org/sites/sdcdp/files/resolutions031715.pdf