The NYC Circus Ban Is Just The Beginning

06/22/2017 10:00 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2017
Vinoth Chandar, Wikimedia Commons

They said it would never happen.

Elephants, tigers, and other wild animals would always be forced to perform for our entertainment, we were told. It has been this way for thousands of years, after all.

And yet here we are. In a decisive vote of 43 to 6, the New York City Council voted yesterday to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, joining the ranks of countless countries, states, and municipalities that have prohibited the practice.

Of course, this is not just any city joining the movement against wild animal acts. This is New York City, the most influential city in the world -- a harbinger of global trends.

This is a huge deal. In fact, it is much bigger than a ban of wild animal acts in circuses. This is the beginning of the end of a vastly larger moral abomination: The use and abuse of all animals.

Both the New York Daily News and the New York Post agree: The momentum of the animal rights movement is not going to stop with wild animal acts. In a few short years, they may “free wild animals from captivity by shuttering New York’s zoos,” warned The Daily News. “If the zealots can finish off the circus, they’ll set their sights on zoos and aquariums next,” the Post wrote bitterly. These editorials echo the worst fears of the lobbyists for a dying industry: First circuses, then racetracks, then labs, then aquariums, then zoos, then farms. “Don’t expect it to end here,” said the Post.

They’re right, it’s not going to end here. Animal advocates have turned the impossible into the inevitable. An icon of American culture is fast on its way to dustbin of history and this has shattered the debilitating illusion that the subjugation of animals is a permanent fixture of American society. Everyone who was ever told to “man up” and “get over” cruelty to animals -- anyone who was ever told that the exploitation of animals is simply a fact of life -- can now say with confidence: “No. It doesn’t have to be this way. A better, kinder world is possible.”

Yesterday, we planted the seeds of a political and legal system where animals’ lives matter for their own sakes. One day soon, the roots of animal rights will penetrate the walls of slaughterhouses and bring them crumbling to the ground. Now that our political institutions are embracing the idea that it is wrong to confine and injure animals for our entertainment, it is only a matter of time before they prohibit doing the same things in order to satisfy our tastebuds.

So once again, I find myself agreeing with The Daily News: “[I]t’s hypocritical as hell for government to ban heavily regulated circuses while we put captive wild animals on display for our edification, nevermind put millions of other animals on our plates.”

But the remedy for that inconsistency is not to ignore the “concern about humans keeping highly intelligent, wild animals in captivity” -- a concern rightfully shared by The Daily News. Nor is the answer to throw up our hands in wistful lament, idly musing upon this grave injustice.

The solution is to fully embrace the better angels of our nature and abolish violence against animals in all of its forms. If that makes us “animal rights zealots,” so be it.

As The Daily News notes, “If you’ve ever had the tugging feeling that orcas, dolphins, chimps and others don’t really belong in confinement, you’re not alone.” That is exactly right and that is precisely the message we should take away from this victory.

To all of my fellow animal rights zealots out there, wherever you are, know that you are not alone. Join the animal rights movement, and together we will change the world for all animals -- whether they have trunks, or snouts, or beaks -- until every last one is safe, happy, and free.

And to all those who harm animals for profit: Take note. The show will not go on.

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