Earlier this year, Ringling Bros. announced they would retire its remaining elephants over the next three years, however, life after the circus doesn’t seem too grand.
When the circus company made the announcement in March that they were phasing out elephant performances by 2018, it was heralded as an end of an era and a step forward for animal rights. But, as National Geographic recently discovered, life after the Big Top doesn’t look as bright as we would hope for the elephants.
Though the elephants will no longer have to endure the glare of spotlights nor the blare of loud music, they are subjected to bull hooks (for elephant “pedicures”) and participate in the center’s breeding program.
Per her trip to the conservation center, NatGeo’s writer, Susan Ager, remarks “Ringling’s public relations staff was polite and helpful,” but she points out that the day’s activities “would be staged just for me.” Staging being their forte, after all.
Ager is introduced to Kenneth Feld, Chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, the circus’ parent company, who she calls an “angry man.” He tells her that he prefers the term “passionate.”
“We’re in the entertainment business. It takes away from the total enjoyment when you’re getting yelled at, and your kids are getting yelled at, by these activists,” he tells her, regarding his decision to pull out the elephants from their shows. “Then the five-year-old kid is hysterical, and the mother feels terrible.”
Feld is against sanctuaries, like the California sanctuary, run by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), where elephants can wander around to their delight and bathe and sleep where they choose.
“We do not call ourselves a sanctuary,” he says. “Places that say they are sanctuaries manage to extinction. We manage for survival of the species.”
The Ringling Bros. compound is the opposite of the PAWS sanctuary. It’s sparse, practically treeless, and the elephants sleep indoors and eat food “after they’re tethered with an ankle chain for the night. Staff says it’s to keep them from stealing each other’s meals.”
Not surprisingly, PAWS president and co-founder, Ed Stewart, is not a fan of how the Ringling elephants will spend out their days.
“They are missing the most important experience, which is freedom in the wild,” he says. “It’s like keeping a Ferrari in the garage.”
Feld intends to keep breeding elephants, even though his circus won’t use them. He says it’s in part for cancer research. Elephants rarely develop cancer, so Feld’s hired a pediatric oncologist to search for a genetic protector, hoping it might prevent cancer in humans.
The other reason? He hopes someday to show tourists the “grandeur” of the Asian elephant like at a center similar to Disney World, perhaps, or dare we say — SeaWorld.
Feld also shrugs off demands from activists that he retire the remaining elephants well before 2018.
“You don’t know what you’re going to miss till it’s gone,” he tells Ager.
“But the good news is: The elephants aren’t gone. They’re here.” Unfortunately, yes, they are.
Read the entire National Geographic article, here.