New Jersey makes history by banning wild animal circus acts

December 17, 2018, 12:02 p.m.
A circus elephant performs during a show.
Photo: Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock

It’s now illegal for any traveling show featuring exotic animals such as elephants in New Jersey. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill on Dec. 14, and it goes into effect immediately.

"Mobile or traveling housing facility means a vehicle, including a truck, trailer, or railway car, used to transport or house an animal used for performance. Performance means any animal act, carnival, circus, display, exhibition, exposition, fair, parade, petting zoo, presentation, public showing, race, ride, trade show, or similar undertaking in which animals perform tricks, give rides, or participate as accompaniments for the entertainment, amusement, or benefit of a live audience."

"I am proud to sign 'Nosey’s Law' and ensure that New Jersey will not allow wild and exotic animals to be exploited and cruelly treated within our state," said Murphy in a press release.

The legislation was named Nosey's Law after a 35-year-old elephant that was seized from the Great American Family Circus over allegations of neglect and mistreatment. Nosey is currently living at a Tennessee elephant sanctuary that focuses on providing a stable, community environment for elephants that have lived in captivity.

Former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who has sponsored animal welfare and protection laws in the past, and state Sen. Nilsa Cruz Perez pushed the bill in January after learning of Nosey's plight, reports.

"The conditions for Nosey and other elephants in similar circumstances is cruel and inhumane," Lesniak told "These animals are not here to be used as entertainment for humans. And using an injured elephant like Nosey to give rides to children and others can actually be dangerous. If the animal should stumble or collapse due to her fragile condition, any rider could be injured."

The bill doesn't define what constitutes an exotic animal aside from elephants, but Lesniak recommended state regulators turn to the state's Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act for guidelines. That law defines an exotic animal as "any species of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, mollusk, or crustacean that is not indigenous to New Jersey as determined by the Fish and Game Council."

The bill passed with overwhelming support from both political sides after being pocket-vetoed by former Gov. Chris Christie before he left office earlier this year.

"These are wild, endangered animals, and they should be cared for according to the highest ethical standards to ensure the survival of their species," said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji. "We cannot allow ill-equipped handlers of traveling animal acts to mistreat and exploit endangered species."

Naturally, the bill was also supported by animal welfare groups including the Humane Society.

"New Jersey is the first state to protect wild animals from the abuses inherent in traveling shows," said Brian R. Hackett, the New Jersey state director for the Humane Society of the United States. "For too long, wild animals used in circuses have endured cruel training, constant confinement, and deprivation of all that is natural to them. We are grateful that Governor Murphy is signing Nosey’s Law to close the curtain on this type of cruelty in our state."

Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in January 2018.

Related on MNN: 6 ways you can help elephants