Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

County bans exotic animals in circuses

Commission cites concerns over diseases in certain types of acts

June 30, 2005


Circuses that include lions, elephants and bears have been banned from staging events in unincorporated portions of Douglas County.

"I don't think of this as banning circuses," Douglas County Commissioner Jere McElhaney said. "It's banning certain types of acts. I'm concerned about the transmittal of disease and the potential spread of it."

Commissioners on Wednesday approved banning circuses with exotic animals and classifying elephants as a dangerous exotic animal by a 2-1 vote. Commissioner Bob Johnson dissented.

Animals considered exotic by the county include primates, elephants, lions, tigers and bears.

Members of Animal Outreach of Kansas, a local animal rights group, requested that commissioners make the changes to the county's exotic animal regulations.

Outreach members said there haven't been any violent incidents involving circus animals in Douglas County.

But there have been cases in other places where animals went out of control and people were hurt, said Outreach member Ann Wilson.

Wilson said the group was trying to be pro-active.

Lawrence Humane Society executive director Midge Grinstead said when some circuses came to the area in the past she received several complaints about the animals.

Connie and Barbara, a pair of African elephants with the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus, lounge at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds in 1998.

Connie and Barbara, a pair of African elephants with the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus, lounge at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds in 1998.

In some cases, she went to check on the animals and often they were in "horrendous shape," she said.

But county residents supporting circuses said the events provided opportunities for children to see animals, like elephants, up close.

"Circuses have been a tradition for more than 100 years," Lawrence resident Ellis Hayden said. "Mostly, they take good care of their animals and a few have had accidents."

Some residents also had concerns that banning circuses with exotic animals from performing could lead to bans on rodeos and 4-H exhibitions.

Commissioners repeatedly asked Outreach members if they had any intention of making requests in the future that would cause problems for agricultural events.

Wilson said her organization had no interest in preventing such events.

"It would be a waste of everybody's time to do that," Wilson said. "This is an issue I think we thought would be doable."


Jillster 12 years, 12 months ago

While I do agree that animals in some of these traveling circuses are poorly cared for, I find it absolutely appalling that the City Commission has chosen to ban circuses with exotic animals from performing in Douglas County.

First fireworks, now circuses...what next, apple pie?

We only have ourselves to blame, though...we are the idiots who voted in these commissioners, or failed to vote at all and let someone else choose them for us.

lunacydetector 12 years, 12 months ago

what kind of diseases do elephants bring to lawrence anyway?

question: did the county commission cave to the very vocal minority that runs this city through heavy handed intimidation?

but, i have to say, some of those animals look to be in terrible condition. perhaps there is a self policing association of traveling circuses that should've been considered, before they gave their ruling. surely that industry has something to help their image and promote good operators who take care of their animals.

then again, maybe not.

the animals, my children will miss. the sideshow freak show - i'll take them downtown to the "heart" of the city.

why do they call downtown the "heart" of the city anyway? because the heart is the most demanding organ?

hammysammy 12 years, 12 months ago

They don't have circuses in Lawrence anyway. Maybe occasionally the Shriners, which if anyone has been there knows why they have to give away tickets, or whatever they were referring to in the article, that wasn't a circus, its a disgrace. Just wait till Barnum & Baileys comes through to KC or Topeka, its well worth it.

justathought 12 years, 12 months ago

Please tell me this is some kind of joke.

Katie Van Blaricum 12 years, 12 months ago

I am really glad that our commissioners listened to a great interest group like Animal Outreach. We are being very selfish to become upset at a decision like this, because we should put the animals' interests at heart, not just our own. The small-time circuses that would come to a place like Lawrence are usually poorly-run outfits who mistreat their animals. Do you think elephants like to be chained up and whipped? By outlawing these groups from certain places, perhaps the demand on them will go down and they will become fewer and fewer. Animal rights groups are doing the right thing by putting these cruel circuses out of business.

Ruby66 12 years, 12 months ago

Personally, I feel that after the community gets over the shock of having their childhood memories "ripped away", there will be a sigh of relief. Those of us with children, don't want to be exposed to anything that will harm them...INCLUDING CIRCUSES! Along with the potential danger of a WILD animal, that doesn't belong here in the first place...Circuses routinely pick up transient workers on the road and are magnets for the criminal element, including child predators, violent convicts, and other unsavory characters. January 1, 2003: A Big Apple Circus employee was arrested in New York and charged with rape and sodmy. The victim, an 18-year-old woman, stated that the circus employee covered her mouth, ripped off her clothing, and punched and choked her before raping her. The alleged attack occurred shortly after a circus performance. September 26, 2002: According to The Salt Lake Tribune, a Ringling acrobat was arrested and jailed in Idaho on charges of sexual battery against a 16-year-old girl. The acrobat allegedly dragged the victim back into his sleeping quarters, slammed the door, and assaulted her. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service also ordered the acrobat to be held. August 23, 2001: A Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus clown was found guilty on nine counts, including sodomy, sexual abuse, and endangering the welfare of a child, for sexually abusing a teenage assistant. The boy testified that clown Christopher Bayer began sodomizing him in 1995, when he was 11 years old. One incident was captured by a surveillance camera. *January 2, 2000: Texas authorities arrested ex-circus worker Tommy Lynn Sells for rape, the murder of two young girls, and slashing the throat of another. Sells, a suspected serial killer who has confessed to at least a dozen slayings across the country, was convicted and sentenced to death.

lunacydetector 12 years, 12 months ago

ruby66, perhaps these small circuses come to lawrence to clean house -because we have so many potential replacements living here, be it under the bridge or in a dorm room.

topflight 12 years, 12 months ago


majic12 12 years, 10 months ago

No circus in its right mind would bother with this hideous little town.

Doug Peschka 11 years, 2 months ago

Not long ago, on another blog on, I read the words of a student columnist who spoke of having compassion for animals while still eating meat. I find my own thoughts closer to hers than to those of most Animal Rights activists or "Vegan Evangelists".

As a vegan and former Animal Rights activist - and I use the word "former" very deliberately - I applaud the efforts of these activists to try to make the world as safe a place for animals as it SHOULD be for humans.

Their finest hours are when they provide hands-on assistance to suffering or endangered animals directly. A project a few years ago that succeeded in finding a new farm home for feral cats on the KU campus was Animal Rights activism at it's true best.

I was there. I saw some of it happen.

That said, I also wish to point out my keen awareness that, as long as there is a Human Race, there will be use of animals. The ideology that some New Age thinkers within the Animal Rights movement put forth, that humanity is on some threshold of evolving from "Homo Sapien" to "Homo Ahimsa", is only a fairy tale of a future that will never happen.

As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields. And, sadly, perhaps, but also true - As long as there are human beings, there will be events and activities in which animals are regarded not as living sentient beings, but as mere commodities. While I and my wife do not support these things [slaughterhouses, circuses, lab tests, etc.], neither of us has any illusion that they will ever be fully abolished from this earth.

Is compassion for all living beings deeply spiritual? You bet it is! However, I challenge activists who fight for animals to beware of the dominion that New Age thought seems to have over much of the Animal Rights movement.

Let's always remember that it was a Christian-inspired man named William Wilberforce who founded the British Society For The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [BSPCA]. He is the same William Wilberforce who fought for many years to end the Slave Trade within the British Empire in the early 1800s.

Let's be as compassionate in our living as we can.

With our eyes open.

Good night, and good luck.

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