Circus Pages’ tentative March performance at the Delaware County Fairgrounds is now uncertain after City Council updated pending legislation last month.
At a public hearing last month, Council included an exotic animal ban for circuses along with a definition of animal mistreatment based on findings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, or APHIS. Council is expected to have the final vote on the issue in February.
County Fairgrounds Manager Sandy Kuhn said they have notified the circus troupe about the direction Council is heading.
“We have not heard back from them. They called and put the date on the calendar, but they have not yet put a deposit down or asked for a contract,” she said.
Kuhn was the only one at the hearing who voiced opposition to the exotic animal ban’s inclusion. She told The Gazette that its another form of entertainment, away from the home, being stripped away. Kuhn said the references made at the hearing about the wild animals set loose in Zanesville about five years ago was not a fair comparison because the animals were owned by an individual, not a circus.
Circus Pages’ performance was a main highlight of the fairgrounds during the winter season. The Florida-based troupe would pay about $1,000 to $1,500 to rent and heat the coliseum building, Kuhn said.
Kuhn said there are no other alternatives if Council adopts the ban. She said the circus could legally perform inside the fairgrounds’ race track, but it is unavailable all year due to the horse races and training.
Circus Pages has performed at the fairgrounds since 2011, but Council canceled Circus Pages performance last year because a permit was not filed in time. The troupe had never applied for a permit from the city for its performances, a point that came up when some local residents protested the circus’ coming to town because of alleged animal mistreatment.
But the protest made Council aware that the permit process for circuses had not been updated since 1976.
Kuhn became the fairgrounds manager last April after those events, but former manager Bill Lowe said he had no problems with Circus Pages.
“They were a pleasure to work with,” he said. “… I never seen any mistreatment of animals.”
About 400 to 500 people come out to the Circus Pages’ show, Lowe added.
While it’s true that Delaware residents can travel to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to see exotic animals, Lowe said, the circus did not charge a rate for children. Therefore, the circus was an affordable option to see the bears, lions and tigers, he said.
Additionally, Kuhn highlighted that APHIS had found no violations with Circus Pages since 2014.
But one of the inspection reports indicated there was an incident involving a tiger at the Pensacola State Fair in Florida. A tiger had attacked a trainer, who then hit the animal with a stick. The tiger started to drag the trainer by her lower body until her fiance entered the closure, hitting it repeatedly with another stick. The incident reportedly took place in front of 25 children and was video recorded by one of the spectators.
APHIS had found no non-compliant items with its focused inspection after the incident. The Gazette had filed a records request with the agency in December for any complaint records to understand the agency’s findings. APHIS has not yet fulfilled the request despite a target date set for Jan. 19.
Additionally, City Council had its first reading to update codified ordinance section 505.23. The law now prohibits anyone to own or harbor any wild or exotic animal with exceptions for farm animals such as horses and domesticated animals such as dogs and cats.
But the update to 505.23 would remove the exemption for circuses to prevent a conflict with the pending permit law. Another change would clarify that only accredited zoos can continue to bring exotic animals to the community. Additional updates are expected to come that would expand what of animals can be kept as pets such as certain amphibians, reptiles and birds. A public hearing on the matter was set for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27.
Council’s decision to include the exotic animal ban came a few days before Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced it would cease operations in May. Company executives told The Associated Press declining attendance, changing public taste and prolonged battles with animal rights groups contributed to its decision.
Delaware would become the first Ohio community to have an exotic animal ban for circuses if both laws are approved.
Circus Pages did not respond to a request for comment.
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.