Now we are going back almost thirty years here, but I remember quite distinctly, the excitement I felt when queuing up to see the circus that had come to town, my home town – Montreal. What I can’t remember is the name of the circus. I have a nagging feeling that it was a Russian Circus, famous for the black bears they trained and showed. I think that is one of the main reasons I bought the tickets – to see the black bears parade around on tricycles and the like, while dressed in silly, frilly outfits. The circus did not disappoint in that regard. At the behest of their trainers/handlers, the bears were doing amazing things, balancing, jumping through hoops (figuratively speaking) and so on. You know the drill.
But, the thing I was not expecting and was not prepared to see is how thin, emaciated really, the bears were. I could not get it out of my mind and the show was spoiled for me from that moment on. I left the Forum knowing that I would never again attend such a spectacle. And I kept that promise but, I did not quite get it even then. It did not dawn on me that the bears were being held against their will and exploited for the sake of human entertainment and profit. I am sure that I still continued to support such venues as the zoo and dolphin shows. As long as the animals seemed to be in good physical health, I was okay with it. It was another 25 years or so, and after becoming vegan, before I made the connection between live animal entertainment and exploitation.
I am thinking of this life event specifically because Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Ringling Bros and the Barnum and Bailey Circus, made a momentous announcement on their website this past Saturday. The circus will be closing down permanently as of May 28th, 2017.
After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® will hold its final performances in May of this year. 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.
Other reports quote company execs as asserting that battles with AR Activists contributed to the demise of this 146 year old traveling show:
The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.
Many of you will remember Feld Entertainment’s (parent company) announcement in March of 2015 that because of local laws in the towns and cities visited, it would cease, in 2018, its use of elephants in the show. The company confirmed that this decision had nothing to do either AR Activism and/or the failed lawsuit launched against them by various AR rights groups. In fact, these groups were ordered to pay $25.2 million in settlement for making false allegations.
But what about the elephants who were to be retired from a life of subjugation and cruelty? What the heck was to happen to them? The hope of AR activists and vegans was that the elephants be retired to a sanctuary where nothing was required of them and where they could live out the remainder of their days in peace. Unfortunately, this was not the case. In 2016, ahead of schedule, the remaining 13 elephants were retired to the circuses’ Center for Elephant Conservation, joining the other elephants who were already living there. According to a 2016 article in Time Magazine:
Keeping the elephants happy and healthy isn’t pure altruism, though. Ringling continues to breed additional elephants at the conservation center, according to National Geographic, and has plans to eventually put them on public display at a tourist destination. The company also continues to use bull hooks, controversial instruments that can be used to prod or control the animals but may cause pain. The creatures are also being studied as part of cancer research because they develop cancer at much lower rates than humans.
More sleight of hand for “The Greatest Show on Earth”. So now that we have news of the rest of the live entertainment being “retired” so to speak, I am wondering what will happen to these beings who certainly merit, for the rest of their lives, the best that life has to offer. There is speculation that they will be sent to other, smaller traveling circuses, since they are already trained to make money for humans. I heard somewhere that the elephants are leased and will be returned to their owners. Could zoos be a possible destination? Given Feld Entertainment’s ongoing exploitation of the already retired elephants, it is unlikely that they are looking for sanctuaries for their “charges” now that the lights are to be turned off in the Big Top.
Regardless of Feld’s declarations that AR Rights Activism and Protests have not had a hand in the circuses’ financial difficulties over the years, my heart tells me this is not so. Change does not happen in a vacuum and I believe that more and more people are understanding that using other animal species for human entertainment is not cool and certainly not right. The woes of Sea World is a prime example of how protest can bring down even a mighty and highly successful business model and corporation. They are struggling mightily with declining ticket sales and plummeting stocks and while they are sidestepping the issue of exploitation by trying to find the right way to do the wrong thing, I believe that their days are also numbered.
Annie’s Vegan View
I echo the words of fellow activist James DeAlto:
And, finally, to every single activist who worked so hard for so many years, paving the way for us newbies to share in your joy – you have my sincere gratitude and respect.
May all beings be happy and free.