Animal-Rights Groups Declare Victory After Ringling Retires Elephants

After Ringling Bros. announced that it would retire its elephants in 2018, animal-rights groups—which paid large legal fees fighting the circus' animal-rights stances over the years—largely cheered the move.

After Ringling Bros. announced that it would retire its elephants in 2018, animal-rights groups—which paid big legal fees fighting the circus’ animal-rights stances over the years—largely cheered the move.

A decision by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to eliminate elephants from its circus acts represents a big shift in priorities for the industry. And animal-rights groups, which have been singularly focused on this issue over the years, seem ready to call the planned retirement of the company’s circus elephants “The Greatest Move on Earth.”

On Thursday, a representative of the traveling circus called it “a decision 145 years in the making,” but Feld Entertainment owner Kenneth Feld, the parent company of the circus empire, said that the move wasn’t meant to give animal-rights groups a victory.

“We’re not reacting to our critics; we’re creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant,” Feld told the Associated Press.

Nonetheless, animal-rights groups were quick to claim victory:

The Humane Society of the United States— which dedicates an entire section of its website to arguments against using animals in traveling shows—called the announcement “startling and tremendously exciting” in a statement. “With consumers now so alert to animal welfare issues, no business involved in any overt form of animal exploitation can survive in the long run,” HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said in a news release. “Whether it is locking pigs in metal cages on factory farms or chaining elephants for long-distance travel in performing circuses, businesses must adapt to public concerns in order to succeed in today’s humane economy.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)— which noted that it had obtained legal documents earlier this week that suggested the circus had elephants on the road that had tested positive for the human strain of tuberculosis—also lauded the move. “We know that extreme abuse of these majestic animals occurs every single day, so if Ringling is really telling the truth about ending its road show, then it’s a day to pop the champagne corks and rejoice that the first important step has been taken—but there are many more to take,” the organization’s Jennifer O’Connor wrote in a blog post. But while pleased, the organization suggested that the three-year transition plan might not go far enough. In a video statement, shown above, PETA Founder Ingrid Newkirk added, “We’d rather that the day comes today, because three years is a long time to feel that whip and that bullhook.”

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also welcomed the decision. “This is a tremendous victory for the elephants of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, as well as for everyone who fought for this change, including many advocates and lawmakers in cities around the country,” the association stated on its website. “We continue to oppose using elephants or any wild or exotic animals in circuses, carnivals and other traveling animal shows because of resulting stress and cruelty, as well as inevitable physical, social and psychological deprivations.”

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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