Amid concerns about public safety and cruelty to animals, the Alexandria City Council is considering banning traveling circuses or at least strictly regulating the conditions under which they can set up in the city.

The issue has been a controversial one since February, when the council voted 5 to 2 to deny the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus permission to set up in the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station parking lot, and it came up again during last week's council discussion about a new animal control ordinance.

Some members, including Redella S. "Del" Pepper (D), said they believe the traveling shows have no place in Alexandria.

"I would like to see these animals banned from the whole city," she said. "You don't get a lion to jump through a hoop without a lot of prodding, and that's maltreatment."

But others said they think circuses have their place, provided they take adequate care of their animals, particularly the large wild beasts, such as lions and elephants.

"Banning circuses is un-American," said council member David G. Speck (D). "The question is, should we be trying to establish some standards for the kinds of activities that will take place and the way they treat their animals?"

Some members expressed concern that Alexandria does not have the expertise or the manpower to come up with proper standards for circuses.

And a local animal rights group hopes to persuade a majority of the council that circuses that use large wild animals are inhumane by definition.

"These animals suffer psychological and physical stress," said Mary Zoeter, president of Action for Animals, which has about 400 Washington area residents on its mailing list. "We're concerned about public safety and liability. Elephants have run away."

The council asked the city staff to examine the issue, find out what other local jurisdictions do and report back Tuesday.