A Reason To Rejoice
Animal lovers have a reason to rejoice as a famous circus decides to phase out performing elephants, writes Jennifer Scarlott.
Dear Cub kids,
A stirring victory in the long struggle for the emancipation of elephants has occurred in the United States.
On March 5, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, one of the most famous in the world, announced that its three touring circuses, performing 1,000 shows a year, would phase out elephant acts by 2018. P.T. Barnum bought his first elephant 133 years ago, an African bull he named ‘Jumbo’, who quickly became his star attraction. ‘Jumbo’ was unusual; most circuses have used Asian elephants, which are smaller, less aggressive, and easier to train than their African counterparts.
Since ‘Jumbo’ was put to work in 1882, no other animal has been as associated with the circus in the minds of American circus-goers. In New York, a parade featuring elephants used to march into Manhattan through the Midtown Tunnel, heralding the much-anticipated, yearly arrival of the Ringling Brothers circus.
Animal rights’ activists and elephant lovers all over the world wept tears of joy at the news. Wayne Pacelle, head of The Humane Society of the United States, said, “This is a startling and tremendously exciting announcement. With consumers now so alert to animal welfare issues, no business involved in any overt form of animal exploitation can survive in the long run.”
For more than 30 years, animal rights groups have filed hundreds of complaints against circuses for their ill-treatment of elephants, with Ringling Brothers being the biggest target. Activists, including myself, have held protests at circuses to educate the public about animal mistreatment and the torture of captivity.
Ringling Brothers currently has 43 Asian elephants ranging in age from ‘Mike’, not yet two, to ‘Mysore’, who is 69. ‘Vance’, the largest, a bull in his 40s, weighs eight tons. According to Matthew Wittmann, a circus historian and advocate for a ban on circus elephants, “Ringling has been fighting this fight for so long, and for over a century the icon of the American circus was the elephant. The view Ringling always propagated was that you can’t have the circus without the elephants, but the global success of Cirque du Soleil (human performers only), shows that you don’t need to have animals to have a circus.”
Animal groups are urging Ringling to retire their elephants sooner than 2018, and are raising questions about the suitability of the facility to which the circus has said it will send the animals.
Many countries, particularly in Europe, and some local governments in the U.S. and Canada, have banned the use of wild species in circuses. Dozens of cities have banned the use of bullhooks – long, hooked poles used by elephant ‘trainers’ to control the animals. Circuses, in fact, are dying out. The debates over animal treatment reflect people’s increasing unwillingness to accept abuse in laboratories, farms, film sets, and bullrings that earlier generations took for granted.
In 1928, a man named Henry Beston spent a long, lonely year in a shack on a New England beach. He wrote poignant words that capture my own feelings about the species with whom we share this unspeakably beautiful planet:
“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
Yours in hope for elephants, for tigers, for all animals,