To the Editor, —

I am writing from Washington Heights in support of limiting displays and performances of wild or exotic animals, like elephants or lions, in New York City. I urge my Council Member Mark Levine to join eight other co-sponsors of the amendment introduced by Council Members Mendez and Johnson. Restricting this type of entertainment — plainly fading from mainstream favor and contracting in economic impact — is a sign of New York City’s progressive culture and leadership in socially responsible commerce.

The Elephant, in Dan and Chip Heath’s best-selling business book Decisive (Crown Business, 2013), symbolizes the emotional part of our human brain in the decision-making process. The Rider, the Heath brothers’ metaphor for our rational side, typically the part in control, can show the Elephant all the facts and figures, but feeling — fear, desire, joy — compels it to move.

The real-life elephant, working today in a commercial enterprise, performing tricks for the master and the paying audience, may as well be our battered conscience: caught in the vise of short-term, narrow-band, business interests and the evolution of our values as a society.

The shameful public spectacle of electrocuting Topsy the elephant in 1903 doubtfully would be stomached in 2016. The circus and the marine park are commercial amusements deeply connected to childhoods and memories, but not immune from attitudinal shifts over time, caught changeless in amber. Sea World will end its captive orca breeding program and Ringling Bros. will phase out, by 2018, all elephants from its circus acts.

Entertainment corporations are changing their line-ups, so why mandate what consumers could vote for with their dollars? Advances in the sciences of animal behavior and biology have refined thresholds for prosecution, but I, for one animal advocate, hope for greater effect as deterrent.

A century after Topsy, the female elephant Rose-Tu was hit 176 times with a bull hook in a single day. USDA citations and police reports followed, amounting to peanuts as far as Rose-Tu is concerned. She is still on exhibit at the Oregon Zoo.

“There’s no real cause here: circus beasts are already protected” claims the October 10, 2016, op-ed writer on The primary law governing wild animals in circuses is the 1966 Animal Welfare Act. It lacks species-specific rules on confinement or handling. It exempts major categories of exhibition and performance. It is outdated and under-detailed.

Elephants are symbolic of something else topical, the GOP. The Presidential candidate of that political party, Donald Trump, is proud of his sons’ trophy hunting hobbies and disappointed that elephants will exit from circus acts. The threat of regression in humane law enforcement is ominously real.

As long as employers give animal handlers and trainers tools of intimidation such as the bull hook and the whip, and expect ever-more-exciting performances to be coerced from wild animals, there will be a profit motive potentially in conflict with worker safety and animal welfare.

Respectfully, I request the Council’s careful consideration of Int-1233–2016.


Leslie E. Henry

Deputy District Leader, New York 13th District, The Humane Society of the United States

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