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POLL: Should elephants be a part of the circus?

UPDATE 2/19: A zebra from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus got free in downtown Atlanta this afternoon and was eventually caught between lanes of traffic on the Downtown Connector. Here’s the story: “Circus zebra leads police on wild chase.” PETA has asked for an investigation into the zebra escape.
ELEPHANT LUNCH (Small)

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus elephants dined on fruits and bread in Centennial Olympic Park in 2006. Every time the circus comes to town, it renews the animal welfare discussion. AJC file photo

Two animal rights groups contacted Mayor Kasim Reed this week to ask him to keep elephants away from Atlanta when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus opens its show at Philips Arena today.

From the AJC story:

Captive Animals Rescue and Enforcement wrote a letter to Reed dated Wednesday with the request. They say the elephant ran amok during a pre-show last week in Columbia, S.C. and endangered about 100 spectators. The organization wrote it “strongly suspect that she was trying to escape from the abuse that commonly takes place backstage at circuses.” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is similarly concerned.

In the letter, they pointed out an incident that occurred Feb. 6 in Columbia, S.C., when an elephant in Ringling Bros.’ “Zing, Zang, Zoom” show took a wrong turn and knocked down the arena’s prop door. (”Zing, Zang, Zoom” is the show opening in Atlanta today.)

From the Columbia State newspaper:

About 100 spectators on the floor watching the pre-show saw the elephant break through the door toward them and rumble around the performance area, just a few feet away. Most people scurried away quickly, while others thought it was part of the show and stayed put.

No one was hurt in the incident, and the female elephant was quickly enticed back to where she was supposed to be, Drake said.

PETA had recently placed a statue to protest circus elephants in Woodruff Park, too.

Should elephants perform in circuses?

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This question comes up every time the circus comes to town. (There are three circuses in Atlanta this month. Two of them, Ringling and UniverSoul, have elephants and other exotic animals. Big Apple Circus does not.) The debate isn’t limited to elephants, but they’re the apex of it, perhaps because they are so smart, so social and so unusually magnificent. An elephant in the room, literally, is an 8,000 pound signal that you’re experiencing something unique.

“Zing, Zang, Zoom” includes 11 Asian elephants. When I talked with ringmaster Alex Ramon, a relative circus newbie, he said his up-close look at their lives showed him that they know they’re in show business, and they’re used to being pampered: “In order for them to perform this many shows, they can’t be sick, there can’t be malnutrition. I was shocked how well they were taken care of. Ringling Bros. has the money to take care of their animals. … If it’s your personal feeling that animals shouldn’t be performing, that’s your feeling, but that has nothing to do with the care. The care for the elephants is top of the line.”

The circus thrilled me as a kid. I loved the elephants, and the trapeze artists, the horses and the cotton candy. For a 4-year-old, that day held no shortage of spectacle. When I remember it now, I remember joy.

I have clearer memories of Wanda and Winky, the elephants at the Detroit Zoo. White painted elephant tracks on the asphalt led to the exhibit. Their huge habitat was in clear view of visitors, and they were the highlight of many visits over many years.

My most recent elephant experience was in 2008, when I spent several hours in and around the elephant habitat at Zoo Atlanta, detailing how they baby-proofed for a calf they expected to be born in 2009.

Here’s how those stories end:

The Detroit Zoo moved its elephants to a refuge in California in 2005, and has no plans to replace them. It was a proactive decision,  and they offer a  thoughtful, detailed explanation of why they will no longer keep elephants. It comes down to this: even with  modern husbandry techniques that doesn’t involve chains or hooks, and plenty of research into a new habitat, they don’t feel they can provide what Asian elephants need to be healthy and happy. Wanda still lives in California. Winky was euthanized in 2008 at age 56.

Dottie, the pregnant African elephant at Zoo Atlanta, died suddenly in 2008 during a bout of acute pneumonia. She was 26, and in the third trimester of her pregnancy. Elephants Tara and Kelly remain at the zoo.

I’ve never before tallied up the elephants I’ve spent hours and days with, but even as I’m typing this, their fates weigh on me. I understand that it’s amazing to see such larger-than-life creatures in your city, in the heart of such spectacle. I just don’t think I can find joy in it anymore.

What do you think? Should elephants be a part of the circus? Should Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed or other leaders weigh in on elephant appearances in the city? Why or why not?

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87 comments Add your comment

Circus without animals

September 16th, 2010
10:18 am

I refuse to go to any circus which uses animals in the acts. It’s not right what they do to these animals to make them perform night after night for our insatiable appetite for entertainment! It’s just pure GREED! Leave the animals alone! This is in no way educational as they all like to claim. What is so educational about cramming exotic animals into tiny cages or crates and dragging them all over the country and chaining them up all day until performance time?

Eye's wide open

March 13th, 2010
7:01 am

All of Ringling’s animals have a horrible life. Lima one of their Zebra’s that escaped in Atlanta a few weeks ago and was running down the highway had to be euthanize because of hoof injuries he received. Ringling says we are working with the USDA to see that this never happens again, true is this is the 4th time in 3 years that their Zebra’s have escaped. Sad, sad.

MRICE

March 9th, 2010
3:55 pm

I was unaware of what elephants endured in the “circus life” and zoos, captivity in many forms. I did the research myself, to fact check for myself; not for an organization, not for a job etc. I wanted to know if the information I was exposed to was true. I am shocked that circuses are even legal. I am deeply saddened at what elephants (and many other animals) endure in captivity. What their lives and deaths are in circuses (and zoos too) are no semblance of what they would be naturally nor what they need nor would want. Anyone who disagrees should do their research as I have. Read the medical reports, the gross negligence of the USDA, the death and birth rates, watch the videos, read and see for yourself. All the rationalizations are brazen lies to justify cruelty for money.

Eye's wide open

March 3rd, 2010
6:02 pm

Lilly I felt the same way as you after I realized the part I had played in the abuse of these animals when I bought tickets to the Circus. If one more Parent knows about how these animals are abused their entire lives to make them perform for just a few minutes, I sincerely believe they would never take their children to another Circus who uses animals in the Shows. If you listen or read what the Circus has to say about how they treat their animals, it is very easy to believe them when they make comments like this: “Our animals are healthy and well cared for by a team of full-time veterinarians and a staff that works to ensure that the animals have an enriching and safe environment. We treat the elephants like they are members of Our Family.”
They just leave out the part that they use a bullhook to beat the hell out of these family members so often it can’t be called humane treatment. For decades the Circus has fooled Parents into believing that their shows are wholesome family entertainment, and it still could be if they would just STOP using animals in their shows.

Lilly

March 3rd, 2010
11:59 am

I just watched the video posted by Eye’s Wide Shut. It left me feeling guilty, ashamed and outraged that I contributed to the abuse of these animals by taking my kids to the circus. My four year old loves the elephants, but I am positive he would pass on seeing them if he knew they were being beaten to perform for him. I won’t debate the issue or judge others decisions. But, I will never take my children to another circus that includes animals. We will stick to the library, musuems, and animal free amusement parks for our entertainment!

Rhonda Valentine

February 27th, 2010
12:27 pm

i agree with sane jane….pray everynight for more people like us

Eye's wide open

February 26th, 2010
6:46 am

Sue, please don’t hide behind a YES vote on the Poll. Some of us would like to hear you explain your selfish reasons for wanting Circus animals beaten and inhumanely treated just to entertain you.