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article imageRingling Bros. to stop using elephants in circus acts

By Karen Graham     Mar 5, 2015 in Entertainment
On Thursday, Feld Entertainment, the parent company for "The Greatest Show on Earth," citing animal welfare concerns, told the Associated Press exclusively it would phase out elephant acts by 2018.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has 43 elephants. Feld Entertainment said all the iconic circus animals will live out their days on the company's 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. Twenty-nine elephants are already at the center, and the remaining 14 will arrive as they are phased out from the circus.
CEO Kenneth Feld, in a press release, said: “This decision was not easy, but it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants, and our customers." In discussing the Asian elephant conservation program they started in 1995, Feld said: “As the circus evolves, we can maintain our focus on elephant conservation while allowing our business to continue to meet shifting consumer preferences,"
Ringling Circus Museum poster from the early years of the circus.
Ringling Circus Museum poster from the early years of the circus.
Shifting mood of public toward animal welfare brings charges of animal cruelty
Besides the shifting mood of circus-goers toward more humane treatment of elephants, the company also cited their difficulty in fighting local legislation that would affect the show. In 2014, the city of Oakland, California became the largest city in the country to ban the use of "bullhooks," a tool inserted into an animal's skin to train or corral them. Los Angeles has also a bullhook ban that will go into effect in 2017.
"The Greatest Show on Earth" came under scrutiny from the public and a number of animal rights groups in the early 1990s over increasing concern for the humane treatment of elephants and other animals in the circus. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has staged innumerable protests, showing their opposition to the use of wild animals, and domestic animals for entertainment purposes.
Poster of Jumbo the Elephant
Poster of Jumbo the Elephant
In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) filed charges against the circus for forcing a sick elephant to perform. The circus paid a $20,000 fine in that incident. In 2004, Ringling Bros. was investigated over the death of a lion who died from heat and a lack of water while the circus train was traveling through the Mojave desert in Southern California. Again, in 2011, Feld Entertainment paid $270,000 in a settlement with the USDA for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act occurring between 2007 and 2011. "Animal care is always a top priority at Ringling Bros.," Kenneth Feld said at the time.
The elephant's long history with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Asian elephants have been the iconic symbol of the Ringling Bros. circus since 1882, when the newly combined "Barnum & Bailey Circus" was created. Before that time, in 1850, P.T. Barnum had a few elephants in his menagerie, and it was his wanting a "whole herd" of elephants that really started the ball rolling. His dispatching a crew to Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, resulted in 10 live Asian elephants being paraded down Broadway in New York City, where they became the featured attraction in a new traveling show, Barnum's "Great Asiatic Caravan, Museum, and Menagerie."
With the combining of the Ringling Brothers circus with Barnum and James Anthony Bailey, the show became the "The Greatest Show on Earth." And the Asian elephant has been the one animal most people came to see. Yes, elephants were a beloved act that drew people to the circus. But times and our feelings toward the treatment of these magnificent creatures demands they be saved and protected. And that is what is going to happen.
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