DENVER – A proposal from a 15-year-old girl to bar circus animal acts within the city limits of Denver was soundly defeated Tuesday by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
Arvada High School freshman Heather Herman (search) gathered enough signatures from registered voters to force the City Council to put the question on Tuesday's ballot. Voters were asked whether the city should ban animals such as lions, tigers, bears and elephants in performances to protect them "from cruel and inhumane treatment."
With all precincts reporting, 51,936 people, or 72 percent, voted no while 20,670, or 28 percent, voted to pass the measure.
"I think voters saw through the greater agenda of the animal rights activists and wanted to maintain their entertainment choice," said Kathryn Works, a campaign manager for the Keep the Circus in Denver Campaign. "The circus has been here in one form or another for 150 years."
Herman did not immediately return a call, but Dan Hanley of Denver for Cruelty Free Circuses said supporters were pleased with the results.
"Right now we're just reflecting on the fact that we brought the huge cruelty abuses from Ringling Bros. to the center," he said. "We think we've raised a huge awareness level that was a voice for the voiceless."
The measure would have exempted the National Western Stock Show, the Denver Zoo and the Ocean Journey aquarium. Nearby Boulder and at least 15 other communities around the nation have barred performances involving exotic animals, industry officials have said.
The initiative prompted strong opposition from Feld Entertainment, which operates the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which has performed in Denver since 1919. The company donated $175,000 to the Keep the Circus in Denver Committee, whose members include some city councilors and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (news - web sites), to oppose Herman.
Herman pointed to the recent deaths of two Ringling circus animals as an example of why the initiative is needed.
A lion traveling in a circus train in southern California died in mid-July. An independent necropsy was inconclusive, but other lions traveling in the same train were healthy, Feld officials said. An 8-month-old Asian elephant born to another circus elephant was euthanized earlier this month after fracturing both hind legs in a fall from a 19-inch-high pedestal used in a play yard for animals.
Feld officials have argued that its circus animals are treated well and had invited Herman to visit an animal training facility in Florida. She declined, saying she believed the company would show her only what it wanted her to see.
Rob Sanchez of the Save the Circus Foundation said he expected to fight a similar battle in the next election.
"I think everybody was able to see (Herman's) intentions were good, but that the people she was getting her information from were not quite so genuine," Sanchez said.
Herman and a few dozen volunteers raised about $50,000 from contributors including the U.S. Humane Society and earned an endorsement from wildlife biologist Jane Goodall.