By 2018, the 13 traveling elephants that perform for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses are retiring. For the people who have been advocating against animal cruelty, especially elephants in captivity, over the past several years, this is fantastic news but for others, they feel the very heart of the circus is being cut away.
According to Delcianna Winders, general counsel for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, these and other elephants have been horribly abused. In particular, circus workers use what are called bullhooks for training purposes but to also separate babies from mothers at very young ages. These devices resemble a fireplace poker and are painful and damaging.
Los Angeles became the first state in the country to ban the use of bullhooks in 2013. That same year, circuses were given three years by the council to change the way elephants are handled or they would have to eliminate them from shows altogether.
Just last year, bullhooks used by elephant trainers were also banned in Oakland. Following that ban, Ringling Bros. released a statement that its circus would stop going to that city within a four-year period. In the case of Los Angeles, a representative from Ringling Bros. said they would not visit that city without bringing their elephants.
For 144 years, Asian elephants have been a major symbol of Ringling Bros. this according to Stephen Payne, vice president of Ringling Bros. Feld, the corporate company. When asked about the change, Payne said Los Angeles is just one of several cities that are advocating against animal cruelty.
Payne added that Ringling Bros. is in the business of creating a circus, put make families happy, not to get in the middle of a legislative battle. He admitted that the entire Ringling Bros. organization struggled with the decision to take elephants out of their shows, knowing that many fans would be upset but he also said sentiments among fans had changed. Overall, the circus needs to evolve.
Reportedly, the 13 traveling elephants will be taken to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation. Located in Florida, the conservation is spread over 200 acres and already has a herd that resides there.
As imagined, Winders, along with PETA and many fans are excited about the change. The only objection came from PETA that felt the three-year wait was too long. A representation from that organization said if Ringling Bros. was really serious, they would make the change immediately.