After a century at the circus, elephants will no longer be part of Ringling Brothers traveling show.
“The Greatest Show on Earth” says it will eliminate its iconic elephants from the circus show by 2018. Executives from Ringling Brothers parent company, Feld Entertainment, said that after a century of showcasing the animals, the decision was a difficult one.
“It’s pretty remarkable, since they’ve been fighting this fight for so long, and for over a century the icon of the American circus was the elephant,” said Matthew Wittmann, a historian and author of “Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010,” who has advocated ending the use of elephants, reported The New York Times. “The view Ringling always propagated was that you can’t have the circus without the elephants, but the global success of Cirque du Soleil shows that you don’t need to have animals of any kind to have a circus.”
Certain cities have passed anti-circus or anti-elephant ordinances making it difficult to fight the legislation and plan tours around the laws. While the circus will still feature some animals, it will also supplement the show with motor sports, dare devils, and human shows.
“There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers,” Alana Feld, the company’s executive vice president told the AP. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.”
Feld Entertainment has the largest herd of Asian elephants in North America and maintenance of the animals is costly. The company says it costs $65,000 per year to house them. As the elephants age, Feld will have to build new facilities for the animals.
“All of the resources used to fight these things can be put towards the elephants,” Feld said during an interview at the Center for Elephant Conservation. “We’re not reacting to our critics; we’re creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant.”
The company has also been the subject of a number of lawsuits from animal right organizations. They recently won a $25.2 million settlement in a 14-year lawsuit after it was uncovered that a former circus employee was paid off by animal rights organizations to make claims against the circus.
Ringling Brothers has 43 elephants in all, ranging in age from 2 to 69 years old. While it hasn’t acquired any new elephants in decades from other sources, Ringling has its own breeding program at its elephant conservation center in Florida. The circus’ main competition, Cirque du Soleil, is an entirely human act and doesn’t show any wild animal acts at all.
“This is a tremendous victory for the elephants … as well as for everyone who fought for this change,” ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker said in a statement, reported on The Huffington Post. “We continue to oppose using elephants or any wild or exotic animals in circuses, carnivals and other traveling animal shows.”
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Image: Laura Bittner