Northampton bars use of wild, exotic animals in traveling exhibitions

  • ElephantVoices via AP

Published: 12/5/2022 8:31:43 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Lions, tigers, bears and many other species are no longer allowed to be displayed for the purposes of entertainment in Northampton, after the city passed an ordinance banning a variety of wild and exotic animals for usage in traveling performances and exhibitions.

Northampton is the 14th Massachusetts community, including Amherst, to enact such a ban. The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance at its Dec. 1 meeting.

The new rules prevent any traveling exhibitions, such as circuses, and individuals from displaying exotic animals as a form of entertainment. It lists 13 different sets of animal species, orders and families that fall under this category, such as primates, marsupials, and elephants. All canine and feline species except for domestic cats and dogs are also included, as are all members of the family ursidae, commonly known as bears.

Council President Jim Nash and Council Vice President Karen Foster co-sponsored the ordinance. The idea for a ban on exhibiting exotic animals had been first discussed shortly before the start of the pandemic two-and-a-half years ago, Nash said at last Thursday’s council meeting.

“We’ve been working on this for a while,” Nash said. “I want to thank all the advocates who have also been helping us out as we crafted this. I also want to thank all the different community organizations who have given us their time and weighed in and have affected the language you see here tonight.”

The move drew praise from animal welfare groups, such as the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center, which advocates for animal rights in Massachusetts.

“The animals endure cruel training behind the scenes, are subjected to prolonged periods of extreme confinement, and are deprived of the ability to express their most basic natural behaviors,” said Elizabeth Magner, an MSPCA-Angell animal advocacy specialist, in a statement. “The ban in Northampton is especially significant, considering that the city has hosted wild animal acts in the past.”

The Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton has previously hosted wild animal acts, such as tiger exhibitions. Foster told the Gazette that the fairgrounds had been reconsidering bringing back such exhibits to recuperate losses sustained from the pandemic, but had managed to find alternative attractions to use instead.

At last week’s council meeting, an amendment was made to the ordinance before its passage regarding how the ban would be enforced. Under the amendment, violations of the ordinance would be under a criminal, rather than civil, disposition, leading to fines of up to $300 a day for every day such exhibits are in the city.

“If a circus comes to town and violates this ordinance, and it’s a civil complaint, they get written a ticket, they stuff it in their hotel drawer, they say thanks, we had a great time in Northampton, they move on and that’s the end of it,” explained Foster during the council meeting. “The reason behind that proposed amendment is to allow for a proper enforcement mechanism.”

Exceptions to the ordinance include permanent exhibitions at a fixed location, wildlife sanctuaries, and exhibitions at colleges and universities for educational or research purposes. Other towns in western Massachusetts that have passed bans on exotic animal exhibits include Amherst and Pittsfield.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at

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