circus bear, circa 1965

circus bear, circa 1965

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.

The Greatest Show on Earth

The Greatest Show on Earth

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.

elephants

Empathy!

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.

 

Performing Elephants

Performing Elephants

 

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.

Live Entertainment

Live Entertainment

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

Thank you to all the AR activists and vegans who work tirelessly to shut down these cruel and totally unnecessary industries.

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.

Anne

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7 thoughts on “The Lights Go Out in the Ringling Big Top: A Vegan View

  • January 17, 2017 at 5:43 pm
    Permalink

    So happy to see this cruel business close their doors. For Ringling to downplay the huge part that AR groups had in making this happen is disingenuous. Public perception of those cruel events have changed largely because of dedicated activists who devoted so much time and effort to expose the cruelty involved. Sea world won’t want to credit the AR community either when their cruel business is shut down, but we know differently. Activism works and there will be other examples of this now that the numbers of AR activists/vegans is growing rapidly.

    Reply
    • January 19, 2017 at 2:43 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Murray,
      As I say to people, I don’t know how to do otherwise knowing what I now know. I wish that the penny had dropped sooner, but am glad that it did. Looking forward to the Anti Seal Hunt in Ottawa and to meeting you.
      Take care,
      Anne

      Reply
      • January 20, 2017 at 9:52 am
        Permalink

        Looking forward to meeting you too Anne.

        Reply
  • January 18, 2017 at 1:35 pm
    Permalink

    I am so glad to see the end of this circus. Public perceptions are definately changing towards using animals as entertainment. I hope the elephants get the sanctuary they deserve and do not end up in a zoo or used for cancer research as is speculated.

    I think the closure of this circus has everything to do with A.R activists and the growing number of vegans who will not support such industries. I believe Sea world will be next to close it’s doors followed by many more of these outdated establishments.

    As you say “change does not happen in a vacuum” and more and more people are realising the link between animal entertainment and exploitation. Hopefully this will be just the first in a long line of such closures.

    Rachel

    Reply
    • January 19, 2017 at 2:44 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Rachel,
      Of course we won’t get a say in where all the animals go, but the closing of such a big and well known circus is a very good sign indeed. I am sure that more will follow as people continue to avoid them.
      Take care,
      Anne

      Reply
  • January 18, 2017 at 7:17 pm
    Permalink

    I too was very happy with the news of “The Worst Show on Earth” closing down. But yeah, I don’t hold out much hope that the retired animals will be treated substantially better. The closing of this atrocity is a start though, and attitudes ARE changing.

    p.s. I sort of remember my first (and last I believe) circus as well. Not the specifics, but a general feeling of sadness as I couldn’t understand why adults thought wild animals doing stupid tricks was cute. The same impression I had with my first visit to Marineland. Took a very long time to connect the dots, but 40+ years ago I hadn’t even heard of vegetarianism, let alone veganism. At least there’s so much more information out there now.

    Reply
    • January 19, 2017 at 2:47 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Friend,
      Good to hear from you. I like that: The Worst Show on Earth. It is very telling that they also used to have a Freak Show that closed down only in the fifties, I think – not so long ago.
      Thanks for sharing your personal thoughts about zoos and the like and yes, the info is out there and available. That is good news.
      Take care,
      Anne

      Reply

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