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Pace Environmental Clinic’s Elephant Protection Act Becomes Law

by | Oct 20, 2017 | Animal Welfare, Law & Policy, Pace Students | 1 comment

“It is time society put an end to this barbaric relic of another age.” ~ Pace Professor Michelle D, Land

Forcing elephants to perform in circuses and other entertainment venues has been relegated to a bygone era under legislation originated by students of Pace University’s Dyson College of Arts and Sciences Environmental Clinic and signed into law by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The Elephant Protection Act, sponsored by state Senator Terrence Murphy and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, makes New York State the first in the nation to implement an outright ban on the use of elephants in entertainment.  Pace students first brought the idea for the bill to the legislature in 2016 and spent the next two legislative sessions lobbying for its passage. The Clinic is co-taught by Michelle D. Land, Pace clinical professor of environmental law and policy, and John Cronin, senior fellow in the Dyson College Institute for Sustainability and the Environment. 

Clinic students join Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Senator Terrence Murphy to announce the re-introduction of the Elephant Protection Act, February 2017.


“It is time society put an end to this barbaric relic of another age,” said Michelle Land, clinical professor of environmental law and policy at Pace. “Wild elephant populations are in dire straits globally. By recognizing its duty to end entertainment acts that perpetuate misinformation and false values about the species, New York State is setting an example today that we believe other states will follow”

“Once again, New York State is proving to be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.” ~ New York State Senator Terrence Murphy.

The student clinicians, who actively lobbied in Albany and collected 1,100 student signatures in support of the bill, wrote to the governor, “The contention of circuses, trainers and managers that performing elephants are ‘educational’ is demonstrably false — one has only to attend a performance to understand. Silly tricks such as headstands, balancing on stools, and parading in foolish costumes undermine a child’s appreciation and understanding of wildlife.”

The training of elephants to perform tricks for audiences has come under fire for years, even forcing the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus out of business. New York State law now recognizes that ordinary animal welfare laws cannot protect elephants from an industry whose practices are inherently cruel. At present, as many as nine circuses bring elephants through New York State annually. 

Clinic students strategize with Matt Slater, Senator Murphy’s chief of staff, at the head of the table, and, to his left, Morgan J. Maragliano, Senator Murphy’s legislative director.


“We are so pleased that this important legislation came out of the work of the students and faculty of the Pace Environmental Policy Clinic,” said Pace President Marvin Krislov. “Dealing with real world issues and making a community impact is what a Pace education is all about.”

Clinic students agree. Nicole Virgona, who served on the Clinic’s first elephant team and is now enrolled in the Pace Masters in Environmental Policy program, said, “Taking a passion and turning it into legislation that passed both houses and was then signed by the Governor is something I never imagined.” Pavan Naidu also a former clinician in the masters program said, “The Clinic changed my life, and I had the opportunity to help change major policy. Elephants will no longer have to be confined in train cars, shackled, and exploited as props for our entertainment.”

Senator Terrence Murphy who led the charge for the bill in 2016 and 2017 worked closely with the student clinicians. “Thanks to the advocacy of the students, staff and faculty of the Pace University Environmental Clinic, New York State has now passed significant legislation that will protect elephants from cruel and inhumane treatment,” he said.  “Once again, New York State is proving to be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

“Elephants have been exploited and abused in entertainment acts for too long,” Paulin said. “Confinement, torture and unhealthy living conditions have led to early death for these intelligent, gentle animals. Today, New York has become the leader in ending this horrible practice. Elephants will no longer be subjected to cruel treatment for our amusement.”