Plymouth may ban circus animal acts

Elephant trainer John Walker III washed down elephants Viola (center) and Nina before a 2011 Cole Bros. Circus show in Raleigh, N.C.
AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chris Seward/File 2011
Elephant trainer John Walker III washed down elephants Viola (center) and Nina before a 2011 Cole Bros. Circus show in Raleigh, N.C.

Plymouth Town Meeting is expected to consider a proposal on April 5 to prohibit circus animal acts within town limits, which would essentially keep Cole Bros. Circus from coming to Plymouth this summer.

Kati Carloni, a 33-year-old Plymouth resident who describes herself as a “concerned citizen,” not an animal rights activist, proposed the bylaw — Article 35 — seeking to ban the use of wild animals in traveling exhibitions that come to the town. It would not restrict activities such as pony rides, nor would it affect zoos or educational institutions, Carloni said.

“This will only affect wild animals that are part of a traveling exhibit or show, living in a mobile facility,” said Carloni. “Countries around the world, and cities and towns all over the US, have passed legislation like this.”


Cole Bros. Circus, which features elephants and tigers, usually comes to Plymouth for a couple of days in the summer and puts on shows at the Plymouth Municipal Airport.

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Animal rights advocates say wild animals that tour the country are forced to perform for the public and endure harsh living conditions, in which they can be subjected to abuse, mistreatment, and neglect. Inexperienced handlers can also put the creatures into situations where they can pose a danger to the public.

“Wild animals do not do well in captivity,” said Lorraine Nicotera, vice president of the South Shore Humane Society. “They’re meant to be in the wild.”

Nicotera, who lives in Weymouth, says similar bans are in effect in Braintree, Provincetown, Quincy, Revere, Somerville, and Weymouth.

Quincy was among the first to adopt an ordinance against the display of non-domesticated animals for entertainment purposes. Quincy’s 1995 ordinance essentially prohibits wild animal acts and performances, animal rides, and races.


Braintree has had a bylaw since 2001 stating that “No living non-domesticated animals shall be displayed for public entertainment or amusement in circuses, carnivals or similar entities on property by the Town of Braintree, or Town-owned property under lease, or on private property. As used in this paragraph, ‘displayed’ shall include, but is not limited to, animal acts and performances, and competition.”

Weymouth also has an ordinance that contains similar wording.

Such restrictions hurt operations like Cole Bros. Circus, which dates back to 1884. Based in DeLand, Fla., it tours the East Coast with clowns; acrobats; magic tricks; highwire daredevils; José Bermudez, “The Human Cannonball” who flies through the air after being shot from a cannon; Vicenta Pages and her Royal Bengal tigers; and an elephant, Baby Val.

Animals are a big part of the Cole Bros. show. Its website features photos of a tiger atop a shimmering disco ball and four elephants standing on their hind legs.

According to the website, the elephants come from the Endangered Ark Foundation, a nonprofit elephant sanctuary in Oklahoma that was founded in 1993 by the family that founded the Carson & Barnes Circus.


In recent years, Cole Bros. and other circuses have been under scrutiny by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), an organization that condemns animal circus acts as “three rings of abuse.” Animal rights activists have staged protests at some Cole Bros. Circus events and filed complaints against the company.

In 2011, the US Department of Justice reported that the president of Cole Bros. Circus pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act for the unlawful sale of two Asian elephants.

According to the US Department of Agriculture website, Cole Bros. has also been accused of not complying with regulations for veterinary care, handling, and licensing. In 2012, the USDA ordered Cole Bros. to pay a $15,000 civil penalty for alleged violations of the Animal and Welfare Act.

Cole Bros. Circus did not return a phone call seeking comment. It last visited the South Shore in June 2013, when it stopped at the Marshfield Fairgrounds and the Plymouth Municipal Airport. The Plymouth show was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Plymouth.

The South Shore Humane Society supports Carloni’s article. The society tried unsuccessfully to get Plymouth to pass a similar bylaw some years ago.

Mary Connolly, the group’s president, said she hopes the outcome will be different. “It’s cruel, it’s not right, and there are some basic public safety issues,” Connolly, of East Bridgewater, said of using animals in entertainment.

“It’s just not good,” she added. The circus animals “are stuck in a train or truck and they’re chained up. They’re on the road constantly. What’s going on here? It’s lousy for elephants; it’s dangerous.”

Carloni said she is not a regular member of the South Shore Humane Society but was happy to work on this particular cause and have the group’s support.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Carloni, who, in between her jobs as a gymnastics coach and an art teacher, collected signatures to place the article on the Town Meeting warrant.

The Plymouth Advisory and Finance Committee voted, 7 to 6, to support the article. The Plymouth Board of Selectmen,however, voted not to recommend it.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.