Minneapolis won't ban circus elephant rides

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2008 - 11:30 PM

The City Council approved rules on Friday that let the circus come but with higher fees and more animal care regulations.

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Dave Wilson, right, a groom and driver with the Shrine Circus, cleaned the elephant area backstage at the Target Center before the circus began. At left is Bo, the second largest traveling elephant in the world, according to Wilson, and the circus's only male elephant.

Photo: Jennifer Simonson, Star Tribune

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A two-ring debate that began with whether to ban wild circus animals in Minneapolis ended instead Friday with increased regulations for their care.

But Junior will still be able to ride Dumbo under a last-minute revision of the new wild animal regulations adopted 11-2 by the City Council.

The new passel of requirements to govern the care and treatment of circus animals requires that city inspectors check how a circus treats its animals in another city before it arrives in Minneapolis.

Circuses will pay for those regulations with a new $750 fee, plus actual out-of-pocket costs the city incurs.

Steven Payne, a spokesman for the parent company of the Ringling Brothers circus, said he can't recall another case in which a city inspects a circus before it arrives.

"This to a certain extent might be a case of regulations created where a problem doesn't exist," said Payne, citing multiple federal, state and local circus animal inspections.

But the city chose the regulatory road after narrowly voting down a ban last September on having wild animals perform in circuses.

Ralph Remington and Cam Gordon voted against the regulations, which they called an improvement but insufficient.

They were stung by ending up on the losing end of two votes. The council voted 9-4 to allow public contact with elephants, restoring permission of elephant rides for kids, which was taken away in a committee vote. Gary Schiff and Sandra Colvin Roy joined Remington and Gordon on the losing end.

Gordon read from safety standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, on which he said many of the new regulations are based. Those standards strongly discourage visitor-elephant contact, particularly elephant rides.

But he was up against the Shriners, who hold the city's only animal circus each October. "That means no pony rides, no elephant rides, no picture with the big snake,' said Tim Davison of the circus committee for the Minneapolis Shrine Circus. That's extra income for Shriner charities and can offset increased regulatory charges, he said.

Remington and Gordon also lost 11-2 an attempt to ban the use of bull hooks on elephants. They said the instrument could cause bleeding or ruptures.

"Why do you need an instrument with a sharp blade that's hooked at the end?" Remington said, standing before a camera with the yard-long implement.

Supporters said more general provisions intended to prohibit animal cruelty covered misuse of the tool.

"There's a lot of good here for the animals we want to protect," said ordinance co-sponsor Betsy Hodges.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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