Town Meeting To Decide If Animals Will Be Banned At Circuses & Traveling Animal Shows In Wilmington

WILMINGTON, MA — Article 65 at this year’s Annual Town Meeting would prohibit the use of wild animals in traveling animal shows and circuses by amending the town’s inhabitant bylaws.

Lead petitioner Jenne Sindoni told the Wilmington Finance Committee at a recent meeting that the language in the article was written by the Animal Defense Fund, the Humane Society, and the MSPCA.

The proposed ban would prohibit the use any of the following types of animals in a circus or traveling show in Wilmington:

  • Artiodactyla, excluding domestic cattle, bison, American buffalo, water buffalo, yak, zebu, gayal, bali cattle, sudae, sheep, goats, llamas, or alpacas;
  • Camelidae;
  • Canidae, including nay hybrids thereof, but excluding domestic dogs;
  • Crocodilla; 
  • Elephantidae;
  • Felidae, including any hybrids thereof, but excluding domestic cats;
  • Marsupialia;
  • Non-human primate;
  • Perissodactyla, excluding domestic horses, ponies, donkeys, or mules;
  • Pinnipedia
  • Ursidae; and
  • Elasmorbranchii, excluding rays.

Sindoni noted that whole countries are passing these types of bans, including Italy and Scotland. Six states have banned animals in circuses, including New Jersey. 11 cities and towns in Massachusetts have already passed similar bans, including Topsfield, home of the Topsfield Fair.

“This is especially important in Wilmington because of the Shriners Circus and all the animals that come to Wilmington [because of it],” noted Sindoni. “Look at elephants. They’re being chained, caged, and traveled across the country. In their natural state, there’d be active up to 20 hours a day, roaming for miles.”

Sindoni argued it’s not just animal activists that recognize the need for circus reform. She’s seeing everyday people be turned off by how sad circus animals can sometimes look.

“People aren’t wanting to spend their money on cruelty and confinement,” she noted. 

The Wilmington Finance Committee voted 6-1 to oppose the article. Finance Committee Chair John Doherty and Vice Chair Theresa Manganelli explained their reasoning.

“If the general public doesn’t want to participate in witnessing traveling animal acts, then they can choose not to do that. Anybody that is putting on an event will eventually decide it’s not worth their while to do so. I’d prefer to have it organically fade away than to be restrictive to the only group in town using [wild animals in a show] — the Shriners,” said Manganelli. “I think the Shriners at some point will decide on their own to raise funds a different way and I hope they would do so. And I am an animal lover.”

“The proponent never has been to the Shriners Circus yet she’s coming up with this article,” added Doherty. “The Shriners don’t make on ticket sales. They make money on their ad book that goes to Shriners Hospital, which does a lot of good.”

The one Finance Committee member who voted in favor of Article 65 was Hirak Shah. Shah, who works in State Senator Bruce Tarr’s Office, wrote a letter to Wilmington Apple in favor of Article 65. Shah noted that Tarr is sponsoring a state-wide bill to ban wild animals in all circuses and traveling animal shows throughout Massachusetts.

“Wild animals don’t perform confusing and often physically difficult circus tricks because they want to—they perform because they’re afraid not to,” wrote Shah in his letter. “Elephants don’t willingly stand on their heads, bears have no interest in riding bicycles, and tigers would normally avoid jumping through rings of fire. Trainers use bullhooks – which resemble fireplace pokers – to strike, hook, and jab elephants. Big cats and bears are trained and handled with whips, sticks and electric prods. A quick internet search will provide abundant and indisputable evidence – from undercover investigations, government documents, and whistleblower reports – that the suffering animals endure in circuses is the rule, not the exception.”

“I hope the kind people of Wilmington will attend the town meeting on June 27 and vote to enact the proposed ordinance to do away with these inhumane and unsafe shows,” added Shah.

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