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Circus Packs It Up for Pachyderms

More than a dozen circuses continue to use elephants, but Ringling Bros. has ended the practice this week. (Amoghavarsha/Wikepedia)
More than a dozen circuses continue to use elephants, but Ringling Bros. has ended the practice this week. (Amoghavarsha/Wikepedia)
May 2, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. - Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus has closed the curtain on its use of elephants with final performances in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Pressure has been mounting on circuses to end elephant acts. For the elephants, the traveling shows mean long hours of being shackled and confined in small spaces, and the use of painful bullhooks for training them to do tricks.

Lisa Wathne, captive exotic animal specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, praises the step.

"Ringling Brothers' decision is monumental news, and a very clear sign that times and public opinions are changing about the use of wild animals in circuses," Wathne says.

The circus' decision comes in the light of research showing elephants to be very intelligent animals. Zoologists say the gray giants form strong family bonds, have long memories and can sustain emotional injury.

According to Wathne, several states are considering legislation that would phase out the use of bullhooks because of their cruelty.

"But there are more than 50 municipalities around the country that have already banned the use of bullhooks, or banned the use of elephants or wild animals altogether," she says.

More than a dozen smaller circuses still use elephants in their shows.

But Wathne points out that as public pressure mounts and more laws are passed, more and more of them are beginning to feature only human acts.

"So, even circuses that have not completely eliminated animals or elephants from their shows yet are moving in a new direction, because surely they see the writing on the wall," says Wathne.

The circus' decision to retire its elephant acts now puts Ringling Brothers almost two years ahead of its own schedule for ending those performances.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA