LA PAZ, Bolivia – Bolivia has enacted what animal rights defenders are calling the world's first law that prohibits the use of animals in circuses.
A handful of other countries have banned the use of wild animals in circuses, but the Bolivian ban includes domestic animals as well.
The law, which states that the use of animals in circuses "constitutes an act of cruelty," took effect on July 1 and operators have a year to comply, according to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ximena Flores.
The law was proposed after an undercover investigation by the nonprofit London-based group Animal Defenders International, or ADI, found widespread abuse in circuses operating in Bolivia.
Flores said authorities are seeking to keep circus operators from killing animals they can no longer use.
"About 50 animals are circulating in national and international circuses at the moment (in Bolivia) and we want to negotiate to make sure that the animals aren't eliminated," she said.
ADI chief executive Jan Creamer called the law "groundbreaking."
The group's undercover investigators in Bolivia worked side-by-side with circus workers and filmed disturbing mistreatment, she said, adding that poorly paid and trained workers routinely abused animals.
"If they wanted an animal to move, their immediate reaction was a kick or a punch or a shove," she said.
She said circus animals suffer everywhere — including in wealthy countries such as The United States — from living in tight quarters and being constantly transported.
"It's rather as if you and I were asked to spend the rest of our lives living in our bathroom," said Creamer. "In Bolivia there were three brown bears being kept in tiny compartments that were just 2-by-3 meters."
The law sets fines for infractions and allows for animals to be confiscated by authorities, said Flores.