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Ringling Brothers Retires Its Elephants

More than a dozen circuses continue to use elephants, but Ringling Brothers has now ended the practice. (Laura Bittner/Flickr)
More than a dozen circuses continue to use elephants, but Ringling Brothers has now ended the practice. (Laura Bittner/Flickr)
May 2, 2016

WILKES BARRE, Pa. – Ringling Brothers Circus on Sunday closed the curtain on the use of elephants in its shows with a final performance in Wilkes Barre.

Pressure has been mounting on circuses to end elephant acts. For the elephants, the traveling shows can 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, a captive exotic animal specialist with the Humane Society of the United States, calls the end of those practices cause for celebration.

"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," she states.

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

According to Wathne, several states, including Pennsylvania, are considering legislation that would phase out the use of bullhooks on elephants.

"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 points out.

There are still more than a dozen smaller circuses that continue to use elephants in their shows.

But Wathne stresses 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," she states.


Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA