Meow! Talk about a nasty stink rising out of the litter box at the Champlain Valley Expo. The Burlington-area supermarket chain Price Chopper has pulled its sponsorship of a wild-animal act at the Expo known as the "Nerger Lion and Tiger Show." According to a company spokesperson, Price Chopper was "misled" as to the true nature of the animal act and was under the false impression that it was sponsoring a petting zoo. You know, the kind of "pets" that'll gnaw off a toddler's tibia.
Local animal rights activists praised the PC decision and called off a protest planned for this weekend. Burlington animal rights activist Rev. Gary Kowalski has organized demonstrations against the Nerger show because its parent company, the Hawthorn Corporation, leases exotic animals to traveling circuses and shows worldwide. Kowalski points to the corporation's $275,000 in fines racked up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for gross violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act.
The animal rights group PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — has a rap sheet on the Hawthorn Corporation longer than an elephant's trunk. Its abuses, which date back to 1978, include failure to provide animals with adequate veterinary care, food or water, and criminal convictions for cruelty. In 1994, for instance, one Hawthorn elephant went on a rampage in Hawaii, crushing its trainer and injuring two other circus workers before being brought down by police in a hail of gunfire. An autopsy later revealed the presence of cocaine and alcohol in the elephant's body. Now, there's wholesome family fun!
This isn't the first time controversy has swirled over a wild-animal show at the Champlain Valley Expo. Back in 2004, the fair hosted the Bear Mountain Wildlife Encounter. Fair goers were able to "encounter" the bears "in their natural-looking, climate-controlled habitat" — aka, an air-conditioned, sawdust-filled doublewide — and witness their "natural behaviors," such as riding bicycles, dunking basketballs, standing on their hindquarters for extended stretches and fantasizing, perhaps, about eating that kid in the front row with the mustard-stained T-shirt.
Such wild-animal acts aren't allowed in Burlington anymore. In 2004, the Burlington City Council passed ban on shows involving wild and undomesticated animals. At the time, Burlington's animal control officer Jodi Harvey said her department shouldn't be put in the position of allowing these shows. Specifically, if she witnessed violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act, there's just no place in the city to house a confiscated lion, tiger or elephant.