The circus is back in Pittsburgh — and, yes, wild animals are still allowed to perform here

Ringling returns to town as a controversial city ordinance is stalled.

John VanderHaagen / Flickr
MJ Slaby

The big top is back in Pittsburgh.

And, yes, wild and exotic animals are still allowed to perform in the city.

Emotions ran high after City Council President Bruce Kraus proposed in early May an ordinance “prohibiting the performance of wild or exotic animals for public entertainment or amusement.”

At a May 24 public hearing, people — including clowns in full garb — packed council chambers and spoke on both sides of the issue, the Tribune-Review reported at the time. Shrine Circus clowns hung out on Grant Street with signs: “Councilman Kraus makes clowns cry!” “We love our animals”

After the May public meeting, the proposed ordinance never came back up for a vote.

And the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey circus is at PPG Paints Arena with six shows between today and Sunday.

Those shows were already scheduled when the ordinance was proposed, and Kraus told the Post-Gazette at the time that the change didn’t intend to disturb existing contracts.

Now, the proposed ordinance is in “a holding pattern” as Kraus and others working on it attempt to accommodate requests from both sides, Neil Manganaro, chief of staff for Kraus, told The Incline.

“We’re taking our time,” Manganaro said Wednesday.

He said Kraus and others working on the proposed ordinance decided at the time that it was “not a good time to go forward.”

The goal is to have a more sober and academic discussion, he said.

Performing armadillos not welcome

The proposed rule drew a line between animals for “entertainment or amusement” and animals for education, research and rehabilitative services, as well as animals from some accredited programs.

So Ringling and Shrine circuses would be out.

But Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, The National Aviary and the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center were in.

The proposal also gave a long list that was “not intended to be an exhaustive list” of what’s considered a wild or exotic animal: chimpanzees, lemurs, monkeys, big cats, bears, elephants, whales, dolphins, porpoises, alligators, crocodiles, kangaroos, opossums, rhinoceroses, zebras, skunks, weasels, otters, badgers, raccoons, anteaters, slots, armadillos, mongooses, seals, sea lions, walruses, ostriches and emus. (And so on..)

The ordinance does point out that it doesn’t apply to horses, donkeys, mules, cattle, swine, sheep, goats and domestic cats and dogs.

More than 30 cities and counties already have similar ordinances, according to Animal Defenders International, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group, the Trib reported.

‘Cruel and inhumane treatment’

After proposing the rule in early May, Kraus said he wasn’t against the circus, according to the PG:

“No one wants to ban wonderful memories of the circus — but we certainly do want to identify and eradicate what many see as mistreatment of animals in that process, whether it is the way they are cared for, trained, caged or transported.”

Instead, the goal was to “protect wild and exotic animals from cruel and inhumane treatment and to protect the public from danger posed by the use of wild and exotic animals for entertainment.”

Kraus said his concern was animal treatment, KDKA reported.

But representatives from both circuses repeatedly said they were already concerned about the animals’ well-being. They said the animals were happy with their care, per WPXI.

Plus, Paul Leavy, Shrine Circus chairman, told KDKA that laws are already in place.

“The use of our animals is legal,” says Leavy. “The use of our animals is already regulated; it always has been, it always will be. And it’s punishable by law if we do something wrong and that should be too.”

This year, Ringling retired its elephants and SeaWorld announced it would end orca shows and breeding.