After more than a century of shows featuring degrading and abusive acts toward elephants and a list of Animal Welfare Act violations, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is finally eliminating its use of elephants by 2018.
The circus told the Associated Press that the decision was made because of growing public concern and media attention regarding how the elephants are treated.
“There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers,” said Alana Feld, the executive vice president of Feld Entertainment, Ringling Bros. parent company. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.”
According to USA Today, all of Feld’s 43 elephants will live at the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. Twenty-nine of the animals have already been transferred there, and the remaining 14 will arrive as they are phased out of use over the next three years.
Ringling Bros. has been under criticism from a host of animal welfare groups for the way it captures, breeds and trains elephants. It is estimated that 50 percent of Asian elephants owned by the circus were captured from the wild, and at least 30 elephants have died in the circus since 1992. Further, though the circus has always called its elephant program a “conservation” effort, not one of the circus’s elephants will ever be fit to be released into the wild.
Whistleblowers such as former Ringling Bros. trainer, Sam Haddock have also come forward, detailing the deprivation, pain and negative reinforcement used to train baby elephants, who are often taken from their mothers as early as 18 to 22 months of age. Wild elephants often live with their mothers until well into their adolescence, and female elephants stay with them for life. After experiencing the trauma of this separation, their lives are full of bull hooks, electric cattle prods, ropes and even fireplace pokers, which force them into unnatural positions and balances.
And this abuse hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2011, the USDA ordered Feld Entertainment to pay a $270,000 fine — the largest civil penalty ever paid by an exhibitor under the Animal Welfare Act — for dozens of violations dating back to 2007. And, sadly, these violations weren’t just for the circus’s treatment of elephants.
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. Even better, you can help spread the word. If you want to experience wild animals in a truly beautiful way, try one of these volunteer conservation trips.