The stakes were more than peanuts as animal-rights activists yesterday pushed a bill to limit the use of elephants by zoos and circuses.
A contentious hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime on the proposal to ban elephant rides and to keep the animals away from traveling shows such as circuses included the power of celebrity and rebuttals from animal handlers.
Bob Barker, host of the long-running TV game show "The Price is Right," said that at least 30 persons have been killed by circus or zoo elephants since 1983, and the cruelty of circus and zoo life makes more human deaths inevitable.
"Is it any wonder that these tragic captive elephants, deprived of any semblance of the life intended for them by nature, mercilessly beaten, some of them daily to force them to perform ridiculous tricks . . . is it any wonder that these magnificent, highly intelligent creatures finally rebel?" he said.
The bill, called the Captive Elephant Accident Prevention Act of 1999, is sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr, California Democrat.
But opponents of the bill (H.R. 2929) said elephants are treated well in traveling shows and that taking them out of circuses would deprive the public of interaction with the animals and hurt conservation efforts.
"[The bill] actually hinders efforts to raise the public's awareness of elephant conservation issues," testified Deborah Olson, director of conservation and science programs at the Indianapolis Zoo. "Reading and watching television programs about elephants cannot equal the real live animal."
Pat Derby, president of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, said the bill would protect elephants from abuse and protect humans from unpredictable behavior from several-ton animals.
"Elephants should not be in circuses," she said before the hearing. "They are intelligent enough to know that when they're off the chain, they have an opportunity."
Proponents of the bill referred to several incidents when elephants went on rampages and endangered their public audiences. …