WASHINGTON (AP) -- What's a circus without an elephant?
A lot more humane and safe, game show host Bob Barker and other animal activists told lawmakers Tuesday as they tried to persuade Congress to outlaw use of the 5-ton animals in traveling shows and for rides.
A bill to do just that has been introduced by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.
''These are animals of the wild and to treat them otherwise is unwise, is wrong and does not honor or recognize the power and majesty of these beasts,'' Farr said. To support his argument that elephants should not be used in entertainment, Farr said the animals have been known to go on rampages, injuring and killing people.
However, circuses, zoos and their researchers say their profession is educational, entertaining and vital to the future existence of the Asian and African elephants.
''Decisions about elephant welfare and conservation should be made with input from people who live and work with these animals 365 days a year rather than by celebrities or activists who specialize in media stunts and lobbying,'' said Joan Galvin, spokeswoman for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus of Vienna, Va.
They also have support from lawmakers.
''The cry of a threat to the public is simply a smoke screen for yet another effort by the more extreme elements of the animal rights movement to attack a beloved American institution, the circus, under the guise of public safety,'' said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.
Both sides marched out statistics and videotapes to prove their point at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee's crime panel.
Barker, host of ''The Price Is Right,'' showed a videotape of an elephant rampaging through a crowd after breaking free from its trainers in 1992. Barker said that not only have at least 30 people have been killed by circus or zoo elephants since 1983, but the cruelty of circus and zoo life makes more human deaths inevitable in the future.
''Is it any wonder that these tragic captive elephants, deprived of any semblance of the life intended for them by nature, mercilessly beaten, some of them daily to force them to perform ridiculous tricks, robbed of every shred of dignity, is it any wonder that these magnificent, highly intelligent creatures finally rebel?'' Barker said.
However, circus and zoo advocates say they treat the animals well and animal rights advocates are manipulating statistics just to push their agenda.
''Not one circus patron has ever been killed by a circus elephant,'' said David Rawls, owner of the Kelly Miller Circus in Hugo, Okla.
''None of the 30 deaths on the list that has been circulated involves a circus patron, and in fact, they could only find five incidents involving circus elephants going back almost 20 years. More than 10 million people have ridden elephants at circuses in this country in the past 10 years without a serious injury or death,'' he said.
Most of the deaths have been elephant trainers or handlers, a job which statistically has the nation's highest risk of a fatal work injury, the Labor Department said in a 1997 report.
Ringling Bros. veterinarian Dennis Schmitt showed a videotape of their elephants' care. He said elephants in circuses have fewer stillborn calves than those in zoos.
''To prevent circuses from exhibiting elephants -- one of the flagship animals of a circus -- would critically change not only the captive population of elephants in North America but also the character of circuses as well,'' Schmitt said.
Circus advocates said they're already regulated by federal, state and local authorities and that they support elephant management programs and breed elephants in America to help perpetuate the species.
But some animal rights activists contended that was beside the point.
''This bill has nothing to do with conservation,'' said Pat Derby, president of the Performing Animal Welfare Society in Galt, Calif. ''It has to do with public safety.''
India already bans people from giving elephant rides. The elephant in Palm Bay, Fla., took off on her rampage with children on her back, Derby said.
If the bill doesn't pass the subcommittee, ''I hold you accountable for the next headline,'' she told the lawmakers.
On the Net: House Judiciary crime subcommittee: http://www.house.gov/judiciary/3.htm
Performing Animal Welfare Society: http://www.pawsweb.org
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus: http://www.ringling.com
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