Multnomah County bans traveling displays of wild and exotic animals

July 12, 2018

From left: Animal Services Director Jackie Rose, County Attorney David Blankfeld, and Andrea Kozil, community advocate

The Multnomah County Board adopted an ordinance Thursday prohibiting traveling animal displays that include wild or exotic animals for live public entertainment or amusement in the county.

The ordinance amends existing Multnomah County code that already prohibits ownership of exotic animals in the county. It goes a step further by establishing that those who want to bring wild or exotic animals to this area for purposes of live display and entertainment, such as performing tricks, are clearly prohibited from doing so - whether or not a fee is charged.

The change includes animal displays in acts like carnivals, fairs, festivals and circuses such as the now-defunct Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

“The driving force behind this is really about the treatment or inhumane treatment that these animals experience during these events and the traveling and exploitation of them,” said Jackie Rose, director of Multnomah County Animal Services.

Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who sponsored the ordinance, said her office fielded phone calls from the public with questions about which businesses and animals are affected and which are exempted.

  • The ordinance makes exemptions for the employees or contractors of a filmmaker (as defined in ORS Title 26A Chapter 284.368) for the purposes of producing a film (as defined in ORS Title 26A Chapter 284.368).

The ordinance clearly defines the specific wild or exotic animals, grouped by genus, that are prohibited under this amendment. Some of these animals include crocodiles, alligators, hippos, giraffes, camels, sharks, elephants, big cats such as lions and tigers, hyenas, kangaroos, primates such as apes and monkeys, rhinos, zebras, seals, walruses, ostriches, and bears.

The ban excludes domestic animals and livestock such as horses, mules, donkeys, alpacas, cattle, sheep, swine, goats, domestic cats and reptiles.  

Read full ordinance

“The transport back and forth and into small cages … it creates a particular stressor,” explained Meieran. “Doing this today does not preclude us from doing anything additional but it’s at least a step in the right direction,” she said. “It is improving the care of animals. …”

The county now joins five states and more than 135 other localities across 37 states that have passed various restrictions governing the use of wild or exotic animals in circuses and traveling shows. Supporters cited examples where exotic animals in traveling shows endured cruel training techniques, constant confinement, and deprivation.

The ordinance, read for the second time Thursday, was passed with three votes. Chair Deborah Kafoury was absent and Commissioner Loretta Smith abstained.

Smith raised concerns about the exemption for the movie industry. Some members of the public also pressed about the exemption, too.

“We’re singling these folks out -- singling out smaller industries instead of the big movie business,” said Smith.

Still advocates said the concern is for those animals that are continually transported and placed in an environment where they are on public display.

“Animals that are being used in the film industry are not accessible to the public,” said Rose. “We can always question whether animals are being appropriately cared for in all kinds of venues, but this is specific to travel acts for entertainment for display.”

Commissioner Meieran said over a year of extensive evaluation and input from national and local agencies as well as members of the public was used in the drafting of the ordinance.

“We considered that the movie industry was a different issue,” she added. “This addresses what we were looking at and it’s an improvement for the animals,” she said. “It’s a very different set of issues that pertain to different industries and they do warrant a different type of treatment.”

The ordinance will officially take effect in 30 days from its passage.

“This is just a fairly small extension in our already existing code,” added Commissioner Lori Stegmann. “It’s not going to solve every problem, everywhere, with every animal. It’s an area where the county does have authority where we can reach a little farther and I feel that it does more good and little harm.”

Watch the Board's decision.