LA City Council takes step toward banning use of exotic animals for entertainment

- The City Council on Tuesday took a step toward banning the practice of putting on display or renting out elephants, snakes, tigers and other wild or exotic animals for many entertainment purposes in Los Angeles.

The council voted 14-0 to draft what could end up being a far-reaching measure, essentially banning circuses from using animals in performances, wild animals from being put in cages for private parties and street performers from holding a parrot or other creature while charging money for photos.

Accredited zoos and uses of animals for educational presentations would be exempted, as would legitimate filming productions which use animals.

Aside from banning public performances, the proposed ordinance would also prevent companies from charging to rent the animals out, which would halt them from being displayed at private parties.

The measure would likely not apply to dog shows or the use of animals that could not be easily classified as "wild'' or "exotic,'' and would also not apply to petting zoos.

The full details of the ordinance to be drafted will need to be worked up by the city attorney's office and approved with another vote by the City Council before becoming law.

Eric Weld, who operates a company called Hollywood Animals, was one of several people who spoke against the proposed ordinance. He argued that the industry is already heavily regulated through local, state and federal laws already on the books.

"Banning exotic and wild animals outright is a mistake, especially when the majority of people in this room, all of the animal people and specialists in this room, care enormously about their animals, and I offer any council member here the opportunity to come up to my ranch and see our animals, our tigers, our lions, all of our animals,'' Weld said.

Councilman David Ryu said the issue first came to his attention through his efforts to crack down on extravagant house parties in the Hollywood Hills, where animals are sometimes put in cages as entertainment for guests.

"Wild and exotic animals have a long history of being exploited for public and private entertainment in our city. We see this firsthand in the 4th Council District, where lavish house parties in the Hollywood Hills use exotic animals as props, such as a lion, elephant and even most recently, a baby giraffe,'' Ryu said.

Ryu also said the ordinance would likely be modeled after one on the books in San Francisco, which bans the use of wild or exotic animals when they are required to perform tricks for the entertainment of an audience.

Under the San Francisco ordinance, accredited zoos, animal conservation groups, rescue shelters, petting zoos and animal sanctuaries that charge visitors for admittance are allowed to operate because they do not train the
animals to perform tricks.

"The ordinance is primarily focused on transient entertainment activities that are widely recognized as causing abuse, suffering and endangering the public,'' Ryu's office said in a fact sheet on the potential ordinance. "While there are some concerns about the use of wild animals in film productions, film production using animals in Los Angeles is substantially better regulated and overseen than locations where animal film production would
move if no longer allowed in Los Angeles.''

Ryu's office said the ordinance would have to address how a "legitimate'' film or television production would be defined, and that some options "include metrics such as the size of a film budget, the number of employees on set, etc. The main goal is to ensure that a handful of people applying for a film permit cannot pretend to be filming in order to gain permission to bring a wild or exotic animal to an event or party.''

Ryu's office also said: "Animal performances do not have educational or conservation value. These displays distort the public's understanding of wild animals and mislead the public into believing that the animals are living an acceptable life when evidence for the opposite is overwhelming.''

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