Time is ripe to free elephants from three rings of cruelty

The US government reached an agreement with the owners of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus this week to settle allegations of animal cruelty in violation of the US Animal Welfare Act. 

Feld Entertainment Inc., the owners of the circus, has agreed to pay $270,000 in the largest settlement in Animal Welfare Act history.  Unfortunately, however, Feld was not forced to admit wrongdoing in the settlement, and the relatively small penalty will do little in the short-term to help the elephants themselves. 

Ringling Brothers’ elephants will continue to be subjected to cruel training practices that require sharpened bull-hooks, kept for endless hours in chains, and transported for long, uncomfortable hours by road or train.

Cruel practices such as these are not new. 

Elephants have been subjected to the terrible cruelty of circus performance for most of recorded Western history.  Pliny the elder, a first century Roman philosopher, wrote that upon seeing one elephant killed with a javelin at a festival organized by Pompey, the other elephants tried to break through iron railings. 

But when the animals had given up hope of escape, they moaned and showed such sadness that the crowd rose up crying and heaped curses on Pompey.  I share that crowd’s anguish and am further saddened to learn that Western culture hasn’t learned from past mistakes and become more compassionate in the last two millennia.

This week’s settlement does not spell the end of the long history of elephant cruelty in the circus, but it might signify the beginning of the end. 

Our better understanding of the emotional depth of elephants, and our witnessing their sadness and pain, imposes upon us the duty to act and end the cruelty.  It’s my belief that the time is long past for elephants to be retired from the ring. 

And as more Americans learn about the cruelty suffered by elephants at the hands of Ringling Brothers, I’m confident that more will choose to act on this issue with their wallets by refusing to open them.

For information about the work IFAW does to help elephants, please click here.

-- NH

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Cynthia Moss, IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia