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Circuses and zoos

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In a Boise Weekly story, Boise City Councilor TJ Thomson and Meridian Councilor Genesis Milam were said to add their voices to the “loud call to end the public exhibition of exotic animals in Idaho.”

The politicos jumped on the anti-circus animal band wagon during the recent run of the Shrine Circus at the Century Link Arena in Boise.

Once again, like many things city councilors do, they are well intended, but not well thought out. Thomson is one of the “keepers” of ZOO BOISE – where big cats, bears, deer, elk, giraffes, and assorted exotic animals are on “public exhibition,” captive of the city and the councilors who run it. If Thomson is true to his position, he will have to either withdraw support of the captive zoo or finesse a response. (As always, the GUARDIAN offers a forum for response).

The GUARDIAN understands and acknowledges the role many zoos play in the preservation of species while providing children and adults a chance to see live animals they may otherwise never see. That said, we too find it unpleasant to see caged animals pacing on concrete floors while locked behind bars – be they at a circus or in a zoo.

Protester Lorraine Guptill said the circus exhibition of animals through strange environments, including the intense heat of the Intermountain West, is detrimental to the creatures’ health. (Sorta like a mobile zoo).

Thomson told the Weekly, “My goal is to start a public discussion. We need to determine if this is something we will continue to support as a community.”

Response by Councilor TJ Thomson:

I believe zoos and circuses are very different from one another.

The animals at a zoo live in an environment that is more spacious and designed to reflect their original habitat. While no amount of living space can compare to that which an animal is allotted in the wild, zoo animals have consistency in their life, with no expectation to travel show-to-show and “perform” before crowds.

Zoo animals rarely come from the wild, but are bred (between zoos) and would not survive if released into the wild. In many cases, animals that are extinct in the wild can still be found in zoos because of these protections. Zoo animals are provided top-of-the-line medical attention, nutritious meals and loving care and social attention. Zoo Boise and other zoos also provide a percentage of the money raised to conservation around the world.

Animals at zoos aren’t “trained” to do ridiculous acts while dressed up in silly outfits to please an audience. Circus “trainings” are well documented to include inhumane tactics, the use of sharp weapons and force the animals into unnatural, painful positions. There is no way to continuously monitor these circus trainings to assure the humane treatment of the animals.

Zoos are heavily regulated and held to mandated standards. Zoo animals don’t travel from city to city, through harsh climates – both hot and cold – confined to small cages for the majority of their life.

There are also public safety concerns using wild animals in shows and accidents have happened that have injured and killed citizens within the public. A circus could put on a heck of a show without the exotic animals and many circuses are dropping the exotic animals, while still attracting the crowds they desire. Circuses serve as the “poster child” of this issue, but there are other traveling shows, such as those that use exotic cats, that I believe would fall into the same category.

Let’s view exotic animals in a zoo, sanctuary, or in the wild. I support an end to the use of exotic animals for entertainment purposes in the City of Boise and look forward to a public discussion on the issue.

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