I suppose this was inevitable given the pressure being put on Ringling Brothers by animal rights and animal cruelty groups. The fact is, the animal rights fanatics actually have a point in this case as a dozen of circus elephants over the years have died as a result of mistreatment. Many have been euthanized. Others were killed in the course of training.
For the elephants, it was a particularly brutal existence. Shackled most of their lives, forced to ride for hours in trains being unable to move, and a training regime that relied on beating the animal led to the company being cited for animal cruelty and had to pay $275,000 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
The company is bemoaning the loss of “tradition”:
“It is a legacy that we hold near and dear to our hearts, and as producers of The Greatest Show On Earth, we feel we have a responsibility to preserve the esteemed traditions that everyone expects from a Ringling Bros. performance while striving to keep the show fresh and contemporary for today’s families,” leadership at Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, said in a statement Thursday.
The Associated Press first broke the news early Thursday.
In what Feld Entertainment is calling an “unprecedented move,” the circus plans to phase out elephant acts by 2018. Thirteen elephants currently in the circus will be transported to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida by 2018, joining 40 elephants that are already there. The circus said, however, it is not ending its other exotic animal performances that include lions and tigers.
“This is the most significant change we have made since we founded the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in 1995. When we did so, we knew we would play a critical role in saving the endangered Asian elephant for future generations, given how few Asian elephants are left in the wild,” Chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment Kenneth Feld said in the statement.
PETA Co-Founder and President Ingrid E. Newkirk said on msnbc Thursday that the move is “145 years too late, but it’s better now than never,” adding, “I think they realized we have so many whistle-blowers, so many photos of elephant abuse … [of elephants] kept in shackles in boxcars.”
“They can’t carry on, they cant hide it all from the public,” Newkirk told host Jose Diaz-Balart. “They have to do something different, finally.”
The company doubled down on its fight to keep animals from going extinct, saying in the statement that “no other institution has done or is doing more to save this species” and adding that it will continue to contribute to conservation programs in the United States and Sri Lanka.
Note that Ringling Brothers made absolutely no defense of the way they treated the animals. That says volumes there.
The whistleblowers in this case were not the animal rights activists but employees of Ringling Brothers who were sickened by the treatment of these beautiful creatures. I have no problem keeping animals in modern zoos where they have room to roam and act somewhat the same way they would in the wild.
But exotic animals in circuses have outlived their entertainment value and should all be phased out over the next few years.