Lions and Tigers and Bears (No Way!): New Jersey Bans Exotic Animals in Traveling Shows

by Michelle C. Pardo

Last week, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to enact a law prohibiting the use of elephants and other wild or exotic animals in traveling animal acts.  Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill authorizing the statewide ban after it received a significant margin of votes in the Legislature.  The bill had passed last session but was pocket vetoed by Governor Chris Christie.Dubbed “Nosey’s Law” after an African elephant that was seized (possibly illegally) by the Alabama authorities on suspicion of animal abuse when the elephant’s  owners, while transporting Nosey and several ponies, stopped in the state to make truck and trailer repairs.  Nosey’s Law applies to “performances” which include animal acts, circuses, carnivals, displays, expositions and petting zoos, among others.  The law applies only to “traveling” animal acts, which it defines as any performance which requires an animal to be transported to or from the location of the performance in a mobile or traveling housing facility.

Bans on exotic animals in traveling acts have been enacted in other municipalities across the nation, as well as those targeting elephants in traveling shows, but New Jersey grabbed headlines for being the “first” statewide ban.  Citing abuses “inherent” in traveling shows, the New Jersey press release announcing Nosey’s Law quotes the position that exotic animals “belong in their natural habitats or in wildlife sanctuaries.”  Animal activist group the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) supported this bill and applauded the Governor’s recent actions.  HSUS has long been an opponent of circuses and other traveling shows.  In 2014, HSUS and animal rights groups the Fund for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, Born Free USA, the Wildlife Advocacy Project, and several of their attorneys collectively paid $15.75 million to Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, to settle cases stemming from a lawsuit brought over Ringling’s Asian elephants.  In that case, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (of recent Michael Flynn sentencing hearing headlines) ruled that the lawsuit against Feld Entertainment was “frivolous”, “vexatious” and “groundless since its inception”.

Earlier in 2018, New Jersey made headlines with a proposed bill (also sponsored by Raj Mukherji, one of the proponents of Nosey’s Law) to issue “Humane State” license plates.  The proceeds of the funds generated from these license plates were to be annually appropriated to the NJ Humane Society — which is the New Jersey arm of HSUS.  After public opposition, the bill passed but with an important amendment — the proceeds of the Humane State license plates would not be managed by or directed to fund HSUS, but rather the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey.

What’s next for New Jersey in the way of animal-related laws designed to ban their use and ownership?  Zoos?  Horse-racing?  Dog shows? Private pet ownership?  It will be interesting to watch if the public has a tolerance for the next wave of regulations and criminalization of animal use and ownership that state and municipal governments across the country are currently debating.