Proposed ordinance would ban public display of wildlife,

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Encinitas considers animal-rights rules
       
Ordinance before council would ban displays of wildlife

By Dana Littlefield, SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

April 10, 2002

ENCINITAS – Ever see a coatimundi in a classroom? Or a kinkajou at a carnival?

If a proposed ordinance passes its last hurdle tonight, it's less likely you will. At least, in this city's limits.

Supporters say the measure, which would ban the display of wild and exotic animals – including the aforementioned members of the raccoon family – is needed to prevent circus animals from being abused or exploited here and to protect the public from potentially dangerous creatures.

Others believe the ordinance goes too far. It would keep not only circuses out of Encinitas, they say, but also small local exhibitors who put on educational programs and conservation presentations.

Despite protests from wildlife exhibitors from Del Mar, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista and Fallbrook, the City Council voted 3-2 last month to support the ordinance, which would prohibit all parades or performances featuring nondomestic animals such as monkeys, alligators and elephants.

The council asked the city staff to amend the list of banned animals to exclude llamas – which are widely considered to be domesticated – and bring the ordinance back for final consideration during tonight's council meeting. If it is approved again, the ordinance will go into effect in 30 days.

The ordinance would exempt veterinarians who treat exotic animals during the normal course of business, and educational activities endorsed by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, or those held by animal sanctuaries or nonprofit organizations. Violators would face misdemeanor charges.

John Dommers of The Humane Society of the United States' West Coast regional office in La Jolla said that while the animals' safety is often the driving force behind such measures, keeping the public safe from exotic animals also is a priority.

"When a wild animal's nature manifests itself it can do so in very devastating ways," Dommers said. "I think that control is an illusion, and after a period of time that an animal is beaten and otherwise abused, the animal can snap."

Priscilla Gargalis, director of the California Lobby for Animal Welfare, said similar animal ordinances are gaining momentum in cities throughout the country. Last summer, Gargalis led the successful push to pass one in Pasadena.

So far, 17 cities, 16 states and three counties have approved legislation regulating animal acts or banning the display of wild animals entirely, according to the Animal Protection Institute's Web site.

Corona was the first California city to adopt such a ban. Marin County imposes certain regulations on animal acts, and Newport Beach issued a proclamation stating that the mayor would not allow wild or exotic animals to be displayed for entertainment there.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors backed away from a proposal to prohibit the use of elephants for public entertainment there in May 2000, opting instead to seek the advice of animal experts on public contact with elephants. The move came just days after Temecula turned down an exotic-animal ban.

After reading about the Pasadena ordinance six months ago, Encinitas resident David Frisk took up the cause here. He said he had only circuses in mind when he proposed the idea to city officials, but he doesn't object to banning smaller exhibitors, too.

"I don't think that we can do too much as far as trying to protect animals," Frisk said. "Even though this is a small step, it is an important step."

Frisk asked Jane Cartmill, who serves with Frisk on the Rancho Coastal Humane Society board of directors, to give a formal presentation on his proposal to the council. Her talk in January included footage of abuses to animals in circuses and elephants that broke free from their restraints and attacked trainers.

Cartmill is director of Encinitas-based San Diego Animal Advocates, which began in 1984 as a chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Cartmill said she also doesn't mind that the ban would extend to smaller exhibitors, but noted that nonprofit or accredited educational programs could continue operating in Encinitas. She said nonprofit status in particular provides an additional level of oversight by requiring a board of directors.

Several for-profit animal exhibitors said accreditation is often unfeasible due to high membership costs. They say having a board of directors won't assure better care for the animals.

"I guess my feeling on that is people have this false idea that a nonprofit facility is always a good idea," said Jessica Leigh, owner of The Wildlife Company in Oceanside. "A nonprofit is still governed by the same animal laws."

Leigh said her company and others like it are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and must get permits from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state Department of Fish and Game and the state Board of Health.

Jackie Navarro, president of Wild Wonders Inc., of Carlsbad, said the ordinance's prohibitions are excessive and would not solve the problems its proponents hope to target.

"Nonprofit does not equal animal care," Navarro said. "It doesn't ensure animal welfare in any way and it doesn't ensure public safety for that matter."

Many of the small exhibitors' animals were pets that people found too difficult to care for, such as monkeys and pythons, or illegal to own, such as ferrets and hedgehogs.

Several North County exhibitors said that they don't breed their animals and that the service they provide teaches people – particularly children – to care for different species and their environments.

"We feel that by introducing these animals to children, that's going to create a spark of interest and inspire them to conserve habitats," said Leigh, whose company features mammals, reptiles and birds.

"I always loved animals," said Leigh, who worked with dolphins at the Minnesota Zoo when she was still in high school, before attending Moorpark College in Ventura County to study exotic animal training and management.

"My spark was created way back when by seeing animals up close just like mine," she said.

Cartmill isn't convinced that having contact with the animals typically leads children to work to save them.

"I'm not sure that having those experiences really translates into anything that really helps the animals," she said. "That does happen, but it doesn't happen enough."



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Dana Littlefield: (760) 476-8233; dana.littlefield@uniontrib.com
 

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