In March 2015, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that it would phase out the use of elephants used in its shows by the year 2018. While the news is positive, animal rights organizations complained that the transition was taking too long and that the elephants deserved to be retired immediately.
Jessica Johnson, for example, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), stated:
“Many of the elephants are painfully arthritic, and many have tuberculosis, so their retirement day needs to come now. If the decision is serious, then the circus needs to do it now.”
Even former Ringling Bros. trainer Sam Haddock spoke out about the mistreatment of wild animals used in the circus. His detailed account of the deprivation, pain, and negative reinforcement used to train baby elephants (which are often taken from their mothers as early as 18 of 22 months of age) spurred many activists to involve themselves in the issue.
Well, thanks to the unrelenting efforts of organizations and individuals, the company has decided to retire its elephants two years earlier than previously expected.
The circus’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, declared that all of the remaining touring elephants will be permanently retired to the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida in May 2016.
This progressive action follows news of the Netherlands banning all wild animals from performing in circuses. Clearly, change is in the air.
The faster transition, according to Alana Feld, Ringling’s executive vice president and show producer, was prompted once the company began planning the elephants’ retirement and realized they could retire the elephants a lot sooner.
“For wild animals whose natural habitat is outdoors, life in a traveling show is filled with unending misery. Their training involves heavy doses of punishment, they are kept in cages or chained in trailers and boxcars, and forced to endure months of grueling travel, all so they can perform silly tricks…it’s time to finally end the era of wild animal acts in circuses, and the accelerated timeline for Ringling’s retirement of its elephant acts is a hopeful sign for us all.”
PETA asserts that it was due to the failing financial returns that Feld Entertainment decided to retire the elephants earlier than expected:
“Because of failing financial returns from a public that lost a taste for abusive elephant acts long ago and legislatures that are banning them on the grounds of cruelty, it’s no surprise that Ringling Bros. will pull elephants off the road in May, 18 months earlier than announced. Years of living in shackles, held immobile on concrete floors, has left many elephants lame and sick. As a study released just days ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms, elephants can transmit tuberculosis to humans, and Ringling has had TB-positive elephants going from town to town.
Since Ringling is also known to breed elephants and use them as test subjects at the Florida facility where it keeps elephants in shackles, PETA warns that because the circus has refused to retire these elephants to an accredited sanctuary, vigilance will be needed to determine how they are treated. PETA is also calling on the circus to end all animal acts, particularly in light of video footage released last month showing how tigers are trained to perform.”
Regardless of the reasoning behind the swift decision, we are grateful that the elephants will soon be allowed to live out their lives in comfort and safety. Hopefully, Ringling Bros. will not use the elephants in their facility as just another way to profit from or exploit them.
To help the plight of other animals mistreated by the circus, you can start by boycotting circuses or other establishments that can’t provide adequate care to exotic or endangered animals. Another way to help is to spread the word.