Just one month before the Jordan World Circus is poised to visit the Wood River Valley at the Hailey Rodeo Grounds on June 7, the Ketchum City Council voted unanimously on Monday to recognize the second reading of an amendment to a proposed “exotic animals code,” which would prohibit the use of non-domestic and exotic animals from performing in circuses within city limits.
The decision was made in response to a recent presentation given by several Sage School students who have been protesting—at government meetings up and down the valley—the abuse of circus animals. At an April meeting of the Ketchum City Council, the council voted unanimously to take the first step in adopting the amendment to city code.
Similarly, last Thursday, Sun Valley City Council members stated that they would consider a resolution that reiterated the students’ concern for the treatment of exotic animals in traveling circuses. This resolution was in response to a presentation given by three of the students—Willa Laskin (10), Sam Laskin (12), and Will Griffith (13). The students have been stating at every one of these meetings that, as the circus’s primary audience, they do not want to be complicit in its abuses.
“One of the circus industry’s biggest arguments is that kids like us want to see elephants and other animals,” they said. “We don’t want the circus to use us kids as an excuse to hurt animals … we have learned the truth.”
The students also presented to the Blaine County Commission last month. The commissioners did not vote to adopt the amendment, but instructed Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves to research the issue further.
In Sun Valley, the response to the students’ presentation was empathetic. After viewing a harrowing video of animal abuses, as well as hearing a speech that reported on the “science and facts” related to the abuse, Councilman Peter Hendricks told the students that it was unlikely that Sun Valley would entertain a traveling circus.
“Most kids had no idea of the suffering that circuses perpetuate.”
Sun Valley City Council
“Hopefully, we will never have one under the circumstances you describe,” he said.
Councilman Keith Saks admitted that as a child he had visited a circus.
“Most kids had no idea of the suffering that circuses perpetuate,” he said.
Saks said he was impressed and found the presentation “illuminating.” He said the students “deserved commendation for an important social project.”
Hendricks said that the students should continue their passion for activism.
“I applaud you for your concern,” he said.
On Tuesday in Ketchum, similar sentiment was expressed, despite recognition of letters that have been sent to council members that state opposition to the students’ plea. Some letters claim that the students’ protests and call for the amendment is propaganda. Council President Michael David pointed out, however, that not one of the letters has been sent from Ketchum residents. Councilman Baird Gourlay questioned the letters’ authenticity, as many appeared to resemble “form letters.”
A third reading of the amendment in Ketchum is scheduled for May 19.
Hailey approves June circus
Despite objections made by animal-rights activists and local students, the Hailey City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve a special events permit for Jordan World Circus, allowing for trainers to perform with exotic animals, including elephants and tigers. The council made sure all required documents and certificates were in order before making the decision.
“We are not entitled to make emotional decisions,” said Councilwoman Martha Burke, who recommended discussing ordinances in the future that could pertain to the treatment of both exotic and rodeo animals.
The council issued the permit with the provision that circus officials first provide safety plans for all animals, in the event that any were to unexpectedly escape.
Mayor Fritz Haemmerle called for a public hearing on the event permit. City attorney Ned Williamson presented details on U.S. Department of Agriculture permitting processes and veterinarian health certificates required by state and federal law.
A group of student animal-rights activists, led by Ketchum resident Maya Burrell, listed alleged abuses by circus animal trainers in a plea to prohibit exotic animal performances in the city.
Haemmerle said the council “does not take lightly” the possibility of prohibiting a 250-year-old American tradition of using animals at circuses, and stated that despite well-known cases of abuses, the federal Animal Welfare Act was passed to protect them.
Haemmerle said if the students wanted to address more critical animal abuse they should visit the confined animal feedlots in southern Idaho, where “real atrocities” can be seen.