MIAMI - South Beach went to the elephants Wednesday as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus made their way into town.
It's a welcome site for children every year, but a sore spot for animal activists. Now, some South Florida cities are banning traveling animal shows.
"We just have a lot of residents that are animal lovers that care about the well-being of animals," said Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Alexander Lewy.
Lewy sponsored an ordinance that went into effect last month banning the use of animal cruelty instruments like whips, electric prods and bullhooks. The commission passed the ban on its second reading with a 4-1 vote.
"We don't have issues regarding the proper treatment of animals. We just want to make sure that you don't have electric prods and bullhooks being used on the animals," said Levy.
PETA issued a statement, saying: "PETA applauds Hallandale Beach for taking steps to protect elephants and other animals used in circuses by banning bullhooks, whips, and other cruel devices. Elephants used by circuses, including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, not only are subjected to the constant threat of bullhook abuse but also suffer from crippling lameness and arthritis, which is why PETA is calling on Florida jurisdictions, including Miami, to strictly enforce the state's criminal prohibition against the exhibition of crippled animals."
Hollywood, Margate and Pompano Beach have similar bans. Ringling Brothers disputes the claims of any animal abuse happening under its big top.
"We spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week doing nothing but caring for these animals, particularly the elephants," said Stephen Payne of Feld Entertainment, parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Payne explained that elephants are 8,000 to 10,000 pound animals that need guidance and training, which comes in the form of visual cues and verbal commands.
"Do you use those bull whips? Do you use those prods?" asked Local 10's Jacey Birch.
"We do use the guides as an acceptable animal husbandry tool and it's only used by highly trained and experienced elephant care professionals," said Payne. "The guide acts as an extension of an animal handler's arm."
Ringling is currently in litigation with twelve groups over their treatment of their trained animals, but the circus stands by their workers and opens their doors to visitors. In fact, 90 minutes before every show, visitors are invited behind the scenes to see the animals and talk to their handlers about the animals treatment and training.
"We really think it's misinformed and misguided and it's driven by a small group of animal rights activists. We really are the advocates for animal welfare," said Payne.
Ringling Brothers recently won $9.3 million from the ASPCA in a settlement over claims of elephant abuse that were not found to be true.
The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus kicks off Thursday and will be in town from January 10th through the 21st at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami.
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