“Because of recent experiments designed with the elephant’s perspective in mind, scientists now have solid evidence that elephants are just as brilliant as they are big: They are adept tool users and cooperative problem solvers; they are highly empathic, comforting one another when upset; and they probably do have a sense of self.”
— Scientific American, February 2014
“I saw handlers deliver a beating … for 30 minutes. She was covered with bloody wounds. I’ll never forget her agonizing screams. Please, never take your children to a Ringling Brothers circus.”
— Archele Hundley, former Ringling Bros. circus employee
It’s almost pathetic that we have to celebrate the end of barbarity and torture in this day and age, but celebrate – for this fight is far from over – we should.
That’s because, after 145 years of mistreating animals, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus finally will stop its elephant act.
And the company appears to be feeling the tsunami of public outrage to do so: Its officials originally said that they would eliminate all elephant acts by 2018. Monday they announced that they will now do so this May, 18 months earlier.
According to The Associated Press, “The move comes amid increasing scrutiny on circus elephant acts with local governments passing ‘anti-circus’ and ‘anti-elephant’ ordinances in response to concerns over animal cruelty.”
The circus’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, told The Associated Press exclusively that all of the iconic elephants will be permanently retired to the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. There are 11 elephants on tour with the circus.
As animal activists and researches well know, the highly intelligent creatures have close family ties, and it was the circus’s habit to separate mothers and offspring. As was the practice of using metal bull-hooks in training. As was the habit of chaining and confining them for long periods of time – in the off-season some were even kept in trucks, and these are animals that roam dozens of miles a day in the wild. I could go on, but suffice it to say the elephants were treated like the scum of the earth, not like the splendid creatures they are.
But as Bob Dylan wrote, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing, and as the circus’s executive vice president said so disingenuously, “There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers.”
Even she acknowledged that so many cities and counties have passed “anti-circus” and “anti-elephant” ordinances that it was hurting the company in the pocketbook, and that’s the one thing they understand. Los Angeles prohibited the use of bull-hooks by handlers last April and Oakland did likewise in December.
So, as one television talking head said, it was “simply a business decision” and not a moral awakening. But it does show that the voices of protest can be effective.
Brave, kind souls protest wherever the circus appears, putting up with ridicule and spiteful comments. But their protests, and similar protests around the country, did result in this positive result.
It’s an important step in our nation’s progress. As Mahatma Ghandi is widely credited for saying, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
So our kindness scorecard can be upgraded to a C-minus. But we must keep the momentum going. We must fight to stop the practice of keeping highly intelligent animals – like the killer whales and dolphins at SeaWorld – in captivity for the mere amusement of an audience.
P.T. Barnum introduced elephants into his “traveling menagerie” when he brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.
But even Barnum acknowledged, “We cannot all see alike, but we can all do good.”
Even if it took “The Greatest Show on Earth” 145 years to discover the truth of that.