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Apr 21, 2015 6:05 AM

San Francisco poised to ban performances by exotic animals

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) San Francisco is poised to ban performances using bears, lions, elephants and other wild animals and join dozens of other places that have some kind of prohibition on using exotic animals for entertainment.

The ordinance, which is expected to get final approval Tuesday from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, would apply to circuses, backyard birthday parties and filming of movies and television shows.

Cats, dogs and other domesticated pets are exempt, as are animals used for educational purposes.

Advocates and opponents agree that San Francisco would be the largest city in the U.S. to enact such a comprehensive prohibition that goes beyond the circus, for example, and applies to filming.

Other localities with bans on exotic animal performances include West Hollywood and Huntington Beach in Southern California; Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Greenburgh, New York.

"The thing to note about the legislation is that it's trying to protect against abuse of animals," said San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang, lead sponsor of the ordinance and an avid animal lover who gave up eating meat years ago.

"A parrot on a shoulder, generally speaking, they are not abusing them to make them talk," Tang said. "As long as there's no abuse involved, folks should not worry."

Tang said it's not natural for a bear to balance on a ball. And most likely, she added, that bear has been denied food, scared and tormented to train it to balance on a ball.

The nonprofit group Performing Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, said there are about three dozen cities or counties that prohibit the display of performing wild animals.

In addition, Los Angeles and Oakland, California, outlawed the use of steel-tipped "bullhooks" to prod and strike elephants, and a California state senator wants to take the idea statewide.

Concern over the treatment of elephants has grown so much that Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, announced in March it would phase out elephant acts by 2018.

The San Francisco ordinance, however, would not bar the circus from coming to the Cow Palace this summer because the facility sits just outside city limits.

Feld spokesman Stephen Payne called the ordinance "completely unnecessary" and said that if animal lovers really want to root out abuse, they should lobby for more inspections.

He said legislative efforts to pass such ordinances are a waste of time.

The San Francisco ordinance, which would become effective in about 30 days if passed, prohibits animals such as monkeys, bears, dolphins, seals, raccoons and otters from being required to do tricks, spar or otherwise perform for an audience. Reptiles smaller than 8 feet long are not considered wild animals, and are exempt. A violation is a misdemeanor.

The Motion Picture Association of America submitted a letter opposing the ordinance, saying it would curb filming of well-treated animal performers. Kate Bedingfield, a spokeswoman for the group, declined further comment.

Susannah Greason Robbins, executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission, said she hasn't seen any productions in the city that have used exotic animals in the nearly five years she's headed the office.

"I understand the need for the ordinance to protect these animals, and I hope it won't be felt in the loss of production jobs here in San Francisco," she said.


AP news researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.


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