We have some pretty incredible news today, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has officially announced they will be closing up the big top. That’s right, after a 146-year-long ride, the performances will end in May 2017. This news comes on the coat tails of Feld Entertainment’s, the parent company which owns Ringling Bros., decision to end elephant performances in their circus act in May 2015. According to CEO Kenneth Feld, “Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.”
Although Ringling Bros. opted to retire their elephants, shipping them to their Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida, to be used for cancer research and a captive breeding program, they have continued to feature a plethora of other wild animals in their shows. Lions, tigers, llamas, donkeys, camels, kangaroos, and alpacas are all used for the circus’ current shows, but as of this coming May, they will all be giving a final bow. Feld Entertainment assures that the animals will go to “suitable” homes, which we can only hope means credible wildlife sanctuaries instead of research facilities, zoos, or yet another traveling show.
Surely there are many factors that led to the decision to end the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, but the largest unarguably the reality that people just don’t want to pay to see animals suffering anymore. This particular circus has been the focus of countless investigations and allegations from animal welfare organizations, who successfully revealed what life for the traveling big cats, elephants, and other animals is truly like, brutal.
Whistleblower Sam Haddock who worked training elephants for Ringling Bros. for 30 years was one of the first people to give us insight into how the mystical feats are pulled off. Sharing his experience with PETA, Haddock revealed that to train these animals to do unnatural behaviors, baby elephants were taken from their mothers at the age of 18-22 months. The infants were then subjected to a six-month-long “breaking period,” where they were bound and forced to stand for 23 hours a day. Further cruel methods of restraint and painful bullhooks were used to teach the young elephants to do handstands and other tricks. Thankfully, this practice ended with the cancellation of elephant shows, but we can only imagine the other animals used were subjected to similarly painful and cruel methods of “training.”
The downfall of Ringling Bros. is a shining example of what happens when people are armed with the truth. No one wants to bring their children to see a show that involved the abuse and exploitation of animals to put on. Feld Entertainment might see the drop in ticket sales as an indicator that the elephants were a huge attraction for the circus, but we would argue that in canceling the elephant show, the circus finally admitted what they were doing was wrong. Seeing this majestic spectacle finally concede to the reality that what they do to animals is cruel and inhumane, people responded accordingly. There is no better indicator of what individuals care about than the ways they spend their money and time. The public resoundingly voted with their feet in boycotting Ringling Bros. and finally, all of the hard work from activists and animal lovers alike has started to pay off. We certainly hope the toppling of this giant will set off a domino effect in the industry leading to many, many more victories for captive animals.
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