A Portland city councilor wants to ban the use of wild and exotic animals such as elephants and tigers for traveling entertainment.

The Portland City Council on Monday unanimously referred the proposed ordinance to its Health and Human Services Committee. The idea came from City Councilor Brian Batson, who represents District 3.

“At this point, it’s no longer an acceptable practice,” Batson said in an interview. “We have these large intelligent animals that are capable of complex thoughts and feelings. They are plucked from their natural environments, and they are essentially imprisoned. We need to ask ourselves, is this the kind of city we want to be, the kind that supports acts like this?”

The list of animals that would be banned from live entertainment includes elephants, bears, monkeys, zebras, sea lions, big cats, giraffes, hippopotamuses, camels and kangaroos. If passed, the ordinance would force a significant change for the annual Kora Shrine Circus in Portland, which includes elephants and tigers in its show. The Kora Shriners did not respond to a request for comment Friday and did not testify at Monday’s council meeting.

Batson said he doesn’t think ending animal acts would cause the circus to close. He argued people would still go to see the acrobats and other human performers.

“They all deserve credit and they all deserve employment,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t have these institutions be successful without torturing animals. I would go see amazing human beings perform at their various events. I don’t need to see an animal. That’s not a draw anymore.”

Batson’s proposal taps into a national controversy over the treatment of elephants and other performance animals that led to the demise of the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus this year. The 146-year-old touring company held its last show in May. Public pressured forced the owner to eliminate elephant acts last year, and the circus blamed its closure on rising operating costs and declining attendance. According to the national animal advocacy nonprofit Born Free USA, cities in twenty-three states have some kind of local restrictions on traveling animal shows and circuses.

Animal rights protesters were present at this year’s Kora Shrine Circus in April. A small group handed out fliers at the Cross Insurance Arena that said: “Circuses are mean to animals, wild animals belong in the wild not in tiny cages or in performance rings in front of screaming crowds.”

At the time, members of the Kora Shriners said their elephants are treated well and remain a big draw for families who attend its circus.

A Maine state representative proposed a bill that would have banned the use of elephants in traveling animal acts, but it failed in May.

“It’s just not natural,” Rep. Kim Monaghan, D-Cape Elizabeth, the bill’s sponsor, told the Press Herald. “I think we live in a somewhat different world today, where forcing wild, exotic animals to do tricks is no longer considered good old-fashioned entertainment, even by children.”

While that bill did not pass, Batson said a constituent approached him about enacting a similar ordinance in Portland. Violating the ordinance would be a civil offense punishable by a $500 per day fine. The councilors did not discuss the ordinance Monday, but City Councilor Belinda Ray said she supported the referral to the Health and Human Servies Committee.

“Whether it passes or not, I think it’s a conversation we need to have,” Batson said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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