Terry Gardner on Ringling Brothers: Setting Free The Elephants

elephants ringling brothers
Written by Terry Gardner

Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Brothers, announced today it is freeing its 11 traveling elephants from further hard circus time. But what about the lions and tigers — and all those freaky clowns? Terry Gardner digs in.

terry-gardner-anewdomain-geniuspack-backpack-review-geniuspack-intelligent-backpackaNewDomain — Hurray, Dumbo is finally free, along with all his cousins, aunts and uncles. The people who run Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus are retiring their elephants in May from circus work.

All 11 of its touring circus elephants will be freed from Big Top duty.

“They’ll be joining the rest of the herd,” Ringling senior VP Alana Feld told the Associated Press in an exclusive interview today. Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus company, also owns the 200 acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Southwest Florida, she said. That’s where 27 elephant veterans of Ringling already roam — happily ringless.

“Like the elephants themselves, (the issue of cruelty to elephants) had outsized importance because of the symbolic value of the enterprise, said Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle in a statement applauding the decision. “Ringling had been one of the biggest defenders of this kind of archaic animal exploitation,” he added.

“We’re confident that the day will come when images of elephants in chains are looked upon as a shameful relic of history,” added representatives from animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA).

PETA has been instrumental in publicizing the mistreatment so many elephants suffer, particularly in the circus environment. One look at this clip on PETA’s website and, well, you get the idea of the kind of material that likely led to this action. For instance, Green Planet reported in 2014 about Ringling’s cruel practice of tearing baby elephants away from their mothers too soon. The baby elephants’ legs would be bound to literally drag them away. I have learned a bit about the herd nature of elephants from various zoos, and both mothers and aunties nurture and protect infant elephants in the wild and in captivity, so this practice would have traumatized both baby and adult elephants.

Circuses never turned me on.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 6.09.45 PMI stopped going to the circus years ago. I was entertained, but it never turned me on the way seeing Cirque du Soleil shows did — and still does.
And humans are choosing to do tricks in Cirque. They aren’t compelled by fear and whips. So I’m cool with them.
But am I ready to go back to the Ringling circuses?
Um, not really.
 Maybe not. I always thought people in circuses — and the audiences, too — seemed creepy. That alone keeps me away.
Then again, freeing the lions and all other animals kidnapped from the wild for three rings of circus could make me rethink my circus aversion. Even though the clowns will still be plenty scary — like something out of a Wes Craven movie.

circus elephants circusBut there are other places to see elephants …

You can’t beat seeing elephants in the wild, and these days they are under pressure due to climate change, poachers and, of course, humans encroaching on their territory.

So it is important to help elephants either through donations to great organizations like the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust that helps orphaned African elephants and rhinos in Kenya.

I was lucky enough to visit their elephant sanctuary in Nairobi in 2013.

Once you have had the good fortune to see elephants in the wild, you will have less interest in seeing them in captive situations. I still need to visit places like India, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand to see Asian elephants in their natural habitats.

But I had many African elephant sightings on my 2013 visit to Kenya when I stayed at both Sweetwater Serena Camp in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Olare Mara Kempinski in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy on the Masai Mara.
Ringling Brothers Stock - elephantIf you can’t make it to Asia or Africa to see elephants in their natural habitats, the San Diego Zoo, which has both Asian and African elephants, is a good stop. I support and visit zoos that have strong conservation programs to help endangered animals, such as San Diego Zoo Global, which really is helping critters around the globe.
So today was a good day for elephants at Ringling Brothers circus.
What I want to know from owner Feld Entertainment is when it plans to free its lions.
I’m perfectly fine with captive clowns, though. Society is better off with them on a short leash.
Cover image of baby elephants giving each other mud baths at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya: Terry Gardner for aNewDomain. All Rights Reserved.
Image of aNewDomain editor Tom Ewing’s 1970-era Ringling Brothers stock certificate: Tom Ewing for aNewDomain, All Rights Reserved.


  • It is a shame that
    millions of people will be denied the beauty of the elephant shows at
    the circus, because of the antics of a few vegan crazies. Next thing
    you know, they will want to ban all animals including lions and
    tigers. Hopefully, sooner or latter, the general public will come to
    realize that the ranting of these few animal rights fanatics lack any
    scientific basis and that these fanatics are just bonkers.