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Benton County made it official on Tuesday: Displays of wild and exotic animals will no longer be allowed here.

On Nov. 20, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to enact an ordinance to ban animal acts in circuses and other traveling shows in unincorporated areas of the county.

At their noon meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners held a second reading of the ordinance, the final step needed for adoption. The ban will take effect Jan. 1.

In recent years, protests have been regular fixtures at the Benton County Fairgrounds during performances by the Jordan World Circus. Animal rights activists condemn traveling circuses as inherently cruel to animals, which are transported in cramped cages, forced to endure long hours on the road and sometimes subjected to cruel training methods.

Corvallis resident Arlene Merems, who championed the measure, thanked the board for passing the ordinance.

“I want to express my gratitude to the board for taking on this issue of animal suffering,” she said.

“It’s often more comfortable to turn away than address a problem.”

She also thanked Brittney West, a local animal rights activist involved in organizing the circus protests, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioner Anne Schuster thanked both women for their work in drawing attention to the issue.

While aimed primarily at preventing the exploitation of traditional circus animals such as elephants, tigers and lions, the ordinance also prohibits the exhibition of a lengthy list of other wild and exotic creatures, including giraffes, camels, walruses, bears and marsupials. In addition, the original version of the ordinance as proposed by county staff was amended to include the taxonomic groups that include wolves, raccoons, tortoises, skunks and armadillos, among others.

The ordinance exempts certain types of animal exhibitors from the ban, including filmmakers, educational institutions such as Oregon State University and the OSU Extension Service, and animal care providers such as Chintimini Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

After the meeting, Merems said she was pleased with the county’s decision.

“When you become aware of the abuses and suffering of animals in traveling circuses, it becomes hard to deny,” she said.

“It needs to stop, and the only way it’s going to stop is by passing laws.”

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald