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March 18, 2009

Big top could lose elephants

Posted: 03:46 PM ET

WASHINGTON - When I was growing up during the thirties in Texarkana, Arkansas, the most exciting day of the year was when the circus came to town. That was because the elephants paraded through the streets, and then used their great strength to pull the ropes that raised the big tent.

Elephants from Ringling Bros. take part in the Pachyderm Parade to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Washington on March 17, 2009

I was in federal court Wednesday in the District of Columbia where a judge heard final arguments in a case that could spell the end of elephants in circuses. If young boys in the future want to see what elephants are like, they may have to look at pictures.

The case, brought by a coalition of animal rights groups, accuses the famous Ringling Bros. circus of abusing its elephants, by using club-like bull hooks to train and discipline the elephants, and by keeping them chained for long periods at a time.

Ringling Bros. insisted that it treats its elephants using customary procedures, and that they are well cared for and healthy.

As I listened to the arguments, I sensed that we were seeing the beginning of the end of elephants in the circus.

Ringling Bros. said bull hooks are the traditional way to control the huge animals. But if they don’t cause pain, how do they keep the elephants in line? Chaining the elephants may be the only way to transport them in railroad cars. But if this causes them discomfort, isn’t there a logic to putting an end to elephants as part of the traveling circus?

As well-intentioned and sincere as Ringling Bros. might be in using historic norms in dealing with its elephants, perhaps the result has been that the elephants have been subjected to cruelty all these years, while humans mostly paid no attention.

Today, the remarks of the judge seemed to hint that he would rule in favor of the animal rights side—at least to the extent of limiting the use of bull hooks. There are probably years of litigation yet to go, but it seems likely that elephants will never again help raise the big top in towns like Texarkana.

-Fred Graham, In Session senior editor

Filed under: Uncategorized


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AnimalLover   March 18th, 2009 5:53 pm ET

I have felt strongly for years that elephants shouldn't be used in circuses. More often than not they are mistreated. Ringling Bros may be one of the more reputable circuses, but what about the other circuses? These animals are mistreated and then when they act out they are beaten or killed. Remember the elephant in Hawaii that went on a rampage and was gunned down? The scars they bear aren't just on their skin, many are traumatized and terrified of humans, while others are angry and aggressive. If they're lucky then end up at a sanctuary (like in Tennessee) to live out their lives being cared for by people who are trained and who will never harm them. What about the unlucky ones? I boycott circuses because I hate seeing wild animals being used for "our" entertainment.


Wendy pollock   March 18th, 2009 10:14 pm ET

I have very fond memories of Ringling brother circus as a child and young adult. To me the elephants are the very life and symbol of the circus. I am very saddend and appaled that these " animal fanatics " have nothing better to do than go after an american legand of entertainment. If the big top loses elephants I would not go.


Darlene Groves   March 19th, 2009 12:46 pm ET

Please leave the Circus alone and tell PETA to get a real job. My children always loved the circus as do my grandchildren and great grandchildren. Elelphants are part of it. Get a life and leave some good times for the children.


Canadian and proud   March 19th, 2009 3:54 pm ET

Very sad to see that you feel that elephants being bullhooked and forced to perform "tricks" are entertainment for your children.

Why don't you get a life and go to your local humane society and volunteer for a day.

Times have changed since the 1950's, obviously you haven't.


Kim   March 19th, 2009 4:54 pm ET

I think this is WONDERFUL! I think all animals should be taken out of all circuses. If kids want to see animals can't they go to the zoo or perhaps watch an Animal Planet show to see them in their natural habitat? Maybe in the 30's it was 'cool' to watch the elephants pull up the tents, but today I would hope most people can see it for what it is- just plane cruelty.


Iris Mead   March 21st, 2009 3:55 pm ET

The behavior of a circus elephant is in no way true to this magnificent animal's natural behavior. These animals are social, sentient beings that have a life and a way of life that is just as important to them as your life is to you. They have families that stay together raising the calves, rules that govern the herd and rituals followed at death. They delight in their play and take pleasure in the mud baths.
No where will you see an elephant reduced to the sad creature who raises their leg on command, sits on stools, paints with their trunks and bows to the crowds who laugh with glee and mistakenly think that they are getting an education about elephants, except in a circus.
Get a book, read a story or go to the internet and learn about elephants. Leave the clown acts for the clowns.


William   March 22nd, 2009 1:04 am ET

Elephants in the wild roam up to 30 miles per day in large social herds. In the circus, they live confined, shackled, and denied everything natural to them.


Katlin   March 22nd, 2009 5:36 pm ET

Elephants are intelligent, social creatures. They live in families, traveling together. They are emotional animals who greave for the loss of one of their own and in the wild their numbers are dwindling. Perhaps one day we will only have pictures or museum replicas I would hope that once we became adults we would see how cruel the life of a circus elephant is and once your child grows up and realizes this, what will they think of you?


Glenn   March 23rd, 2009 1:08 pm ET

My daughter and I always enjoy the RB circus. However, we were always led to belive that they were tops in caring for elephants and often were the leader when it came to caring for them. I guess not! Also, why targeting just elephants, what about the tigers and other animals that are parts of the show(s). Certainly not natural for tigers to be "whipped" I always thought they were mistreated more than the elephants.


Karen Purdy   March 23rd, 2009 7:06 pm ET

I pray they take all the animals out of the circus. They get prodded, poked, kicked, chained, caged in cages they can't move in. They feel pain just like we do. What a life they have to live. I would like to take some of these people and show them what its like being a performing animal. They could just see first hand how it feels. Why do people think they have to use and abuse to have fun? You want to see animals see them in their own habitats, not chained or caged. These same people can't believe when they get fed-up and fight back. I sure can see why they do.


Muthyavan.   March 23rd, 2009 11:15 pm ET

Because animal right groups have stoped animals being used in circus that does not end animals like elephants being kept away from humans for ever. Today you can go to Many Zoo Parks maintained by many muncipalities around the world where Elephants play games and carry peoples around parks.

The problems with ciricus they are always moving from places to place for their performances and the animals need to be tied or caged for humans safty. That is really very bad and animals suffer a lot and if the cirus is not well attended animal feeding is also curtailed making them stave. An elephant needs at least 100kg of green leaves 100 kg of grain and at least 200 gallons of water a day beside a good bath in a stream of water for three hours.

World over Elephants are finding difficult in their srinking habitats because humans are encroaching into their habitats for cultivation and developements. Hundred years ago elephants were the real friends for human developement, helping to raise heavy weights, ploughing fields for cultivation for the transport of heavy loads to distance places in Asia and Africa.

Elephants are considered as god in Indian cultures and people worship even now feeding them with food. Indian temples always have eleephants in their tempels for carrying dytees around villages and villagers feed the elephants with fruits and grains. Asian and African countries are doing their best in safeguarding these animals and their habitats from extinct.


Rebekah Brown-Wiseman   April 2nd, 2009 11:41 pm ET

In my opinion part of being a parent is to raise a child that develops a good sense of morals. I could never take my child to a circus where the owners benefit from the extreme suffering of animals. As a former attorney for the Department of Children and Families, I litigated termination of parental rights cases. I believe that the average American has no idea of the extent of cruelty that is out there. Individuals prefer not to know, because if they knew the truth, it may be too much to bear. Knowledge is in part opening your eyes to what is out there instead of willfully not bothering to inquire into a given situation. Once you have knowledge, you have the power to do something about it. There are numerous alternatives to going to the circus. Options of course depend on the age of the child. One suggestion is cirque du soleil. They have a variety of different shows that do not use animals.



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