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Circus Coming to Capitol, But Senator Tries to Stop The Elephants

April 4, 1995 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ How can a circus salute a Republican-run Congress without bringing along its elephants? One GOP senator wanted Ringling Bros. to try.

Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., was more concerned about spectator safety and animal welfare than party symbolism Monday as he tried unsuccessfully to block the circus from bringing its performing pachyderms to the Capitol grounds this week.

Billed as a salute to Congress and commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the free show Wednesday coincides with the circus’ scheduled three-week visit to Washington and the final week of voting on House Republicans’ ``Contract With America.″

Smith favored the circus coming to the Capitol with its clowns and dancing dogs, but he said elephants are too dangerous because they hate being confined.

He showed a photograph of a bloodied elephant that went berserk last year at a Circus International performance in Honolulu, killing a man and injuring a dozen other people. It was shot 100 times before it was stopped, he said.

He described in gruesome detail other injuries and deaths caused by rampaging elephants.

``This is not an unreasonable concern,″ said Smith. ``How do you stop an elephant if it goes berserk in the Capitol?″

Speaking to a nearly empty Senate chamber, Smith said he had not been able to interest a single other senator in his concern about a possible elephant rampage.

``People say I’m an animal rights nut,″ he said. ``I’m not. But they don’t have a congressman to speak for them.″

Although not a member of any animal rights group, Smith was contacted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in its campaign against the use of animals in the circus.

Frustrated that no other senators were as concerned about the safety factor, Smith noted that overtime pay for the extra security would cost the taxpayers $52,000.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who arranged the show, said the circus contacted his office months ago about doing a performance. An animal lover since boyhood, the speaker enthusiastically agreed. The House voted in favor of the idea on March 14.

After Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said the Senate sergeant-at-arms had reviewed the security problems and would take proper precautions, the Senate approved the visit of the circus _ elephants and all _ by voice vote Monday.