Amherst bans exotic and wild animals at future shows 

  • An Asian elephant AP PHOTO/AHN YOUNG-JOON

Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 01, 2020

AMHERST — If traveling shows and circuses ever come to Amherst, they will not be allowed to have wild and exotic animals on display or featured as part of their acts.

In a unanimous vote Monday by the Town Council, Amherst became the 13th municipality in the state to adopt a bylaw designed to prevent mistreatment of various animals, including chimpanzees, monkeys, tigers and leopards, as well as giraffes, camels, elephants and zebras. Pittsfield also instituted such a ban in 2016.

Known as the “Bylaw Prohibiting the Use of Wild and Exotic Animals in Traveling Shows and Circuses,” the initiative was sponsored by District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne, with support from animal rights activists locally and across the state. Bahl-Milne said the main driver for the initiative was Rebecca Schwartz, co-owner of the Cushman Market & Cafe.

Bahl-Milne wrote in a memo to her colleagues about the importance of adopting the bylaw, referencing Beulah, the elephant that died at the Eastern States Exposition in 2019, and concern for animals performing tricks only after trainers use tactics such as electric shocks, bull hooks, whips and chains.

“Circus animals live in prolonged confinement, travel many months of the year in poorly ventilated trailers often in severe weather conditions, and (are) denied adequate water and exercise,” Bahl-Milne wrote.

The impact the bylaw will have on Amherst is unknown, as there have been no shows coming through town in the recent past that would have been affected, and the largest sites for performances, such as the Mullins Center, are on the University of Massachusetts campus and in Hadley.

The bylaw exempts llamas and alpacas from what are considered wild and exotic animals. Other exceptions are for exhibitions at non-mobile, permanent institutions, and demonstrations or exhibitions by a college or university, as long as they are for research and not for entertainment. Wildlife sanctuaries, zoos and aquariums also are not impacted by the bylaw.

Laura Hagen, Massachusetts state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told the council that animals that are part of circuses are not comfortable and are leading lives of misery.

Sheryl Becker of Agawam, part of Western Massachusetts Animal Rights, said Amherst has an opportunity to be a role model for other communities.

The council also heard support for the bylaw from Christina Scaringe, general counsel for Animal Defenders International in Los Angeles.