Images of cats and dogs with the text The Humane Society of New York Since 1904

Circuses and Roadside Zoos

The term “roadside zoos” is used to describe zoos that are unaccredited and where wild animals, such as lions, tigers, monkeys, and bears, are kept in small cages, fed inadequate food, provided with little mental stimulation, and deprived of necessary medical care. They suffer greatly in this barren existence. These zoos, while not accredited, often have licenses issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Criteria for the issuance of licenses are minimal and inadequate.

Wild animals in circuses suffer from continuous confinement, cruel training, and being forced to perform acts totally unnatural to their species. Many states and municipalities have recognized that wild animal performances present serious humane and public safety concerns and have passed laws to ban the use of wild animals in circuses and other animal acts. Federal laws, however, are inadequate. Not only is there insufficient enforcement of the Federal Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. 2131 et seq.), but the law is flawed, containing minimal standards and allowing wild animals to be constantly confined, transported, and exploited just for exhibition purposes. Tragically, there have been many documented reports of wild animals used for exhibition being horribly abused, including being beaten and shocked.

Some Good News!

New York has made progress! Wild and exotic animal circus performances are prohibited in New York City (NYC Administrative Code section 17-199.5) and in other localities in the state. Elephants may not be used in entertainment acts, including circuses, rides, and performances, for the amusement of a live audience (NYS Agriculture and Markets Law section 380 and NYS Environmental Conservation Law section 11-0540). Direct contact between the public and big cats, such as lions, tigers, leopards, and cougars, is prohibited (NYS Environmental Conservation Law section 11-0538). This includes such things as taking photographs unless there is a permanent physical barrier to prevent physical contact. In order for people to have photos taken with baby “big” cats, the cats are prematurely separated from their mothers and subjected to constant traveling and handling. Once the animals get too large for such handling, their futures are dim, with some sold to roadside zoos or euthanized.

Congress passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act which prohibits (with limited exceptions) the breeding and possession of designated wildlife species (lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, or hybrids thereof), and the importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring, and purchasing of such species in interstate or foreign commence.

Perhaps in the past society did not recognize or know enough about the sad plight of wild animals used for entertainment. We can no longer escape what we now do know---that wild animals have inherent needs of their own that cannot be met when they are severely confined, chained, or forced to do tricks.

How To Take Action

Do not attend circuses, animal acts, roadside zoos, and other exhibitions where wild animals are kept in substandard conditions or forced to perform. Do not participate in wild animal rides or photo opportunities.

Please contact your legislators and urge them to support these bills:

For names of your congressman/woman and two U.S. senators and their contact information visit, “Contact Your Member.”

New York State

Contact Your Representatives

To help take action on any of these or other animal protection bills pending before the NYS Legislature, use the methods below to reach lawmakers.

  1. Your Assembly member and New York State Senator

    If you do not know their names or contact information, go to  and If you provide your address, you can get this information. In your communication, mention that you are a constituent and include your address.

  2. Senate and Assembly Leadership

    Name: Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Majority Leader
    Phone: (518)455-2585
    Fax: (518)426-6811;
    Address: Room 907, Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY 12247

    Name: Carl E. Heastie, Assembly Speaker
    Phone: (518)455-3791
    Fax: (518)455-4812
    Address: Room 932, Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY 12248

» Back to Action Alerts and Other Issues