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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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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

B-MAN

February 15th, 2010
2:54 pm

WOW…tings is gettin KA RAY ZEE on this blog. Everyone on here has a point…I just find it so interesting at how much has changed in our world in the last 20 or so years…I started going to the circus when I was a small child, about 35 years ago…I don’t think that there was ever any grandstanding or sensationalism about circus animals then…if there was it was such a small group that not enough people found it worthwhile to draw any attention to them. The bottom line is, is there abuse documented within the circus to the animals? Yes there is. Has there been any significant ruling against Ringling that has prompted them to stop or be forced to stop using animals in the circus, nope. So…my suggestion is to allow people to make their own decisions in life…what they want to see, what they want to eat, how they want to entertain themselves. Lord knows that along with the government, special interest groups would love for you to behave the way that they feel you should behave and do what they tell you to do and so on and so on. There is nothing wrong with a child enjoying a circus, or being exposed to a colorful world of music, animals, and fun. It is certainly not like Ringling is holding public animal assaults in ring 2… Everyone has their opinions…and everyone is certainly entitled to feel the way that they feel. I would just prefer to let people make their own decisions on things…live and love life people.

Eye's wide open

February 15th, 2010
10:35 am

Abuse is still abuse whether it is a human or animal.
“Just Get Real” if you look at the pictures and videos of Ringling trainers beating and using a Hot Shot on their Elephants to train them, you will see how immature, stupid and out of touch your comments are.

Just Get Real!!!

February 15th, 2010
10:18 am

It is truly amazing at how little some people have to do and how POLITICALLY CORRECT they want to force the MAJORITY of us to be!!!

1st and foremost…Elephants have been performing for YEARS! and the treatment, health care, food, etc. they now receive from an organization like Ringling Bros. is TOP OF THE LINE!

2nd…That GOD no rational people take groups such as PETA serious (remember this is the same group that wnated UGA to adopt a “ROBOT” dog when Uga died last year!) Good Lord these people are idiots!!

3rd…Chickens, pigs, cows, etc. are NOT domestic pets!!! They serve as part of the FOOD CHAIN and it that bothers a few nuts at PETA then ask me how much sleep I am going to lose worrying about that!!!

Eye's wide open

February 14th, 2010
9:22 am

Baby Barack is the first Asian elephant born as a result of artificial insemination at a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus facility has been pulled from the circus lineup after he became infected with a potentially deadly herpes virus.
The 1-year-old calf, Barack, is being treated for elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a disease that has killed several Asian elephants in zoos across the continent in the past three decades. He and his mother were taken off the traveling unit two weeks ago and sent to Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City. The duo had made a appearance at the Orlando Florida last month during the circus’ “Greatest Show on Earth.” Ringling only has about 6 more years before they have to put this male elephant behind bars, so at one years old they already have this baby elephant out on the road, making money on him while they can.
Folks if Ringling is visiting your town, check your Public Library to see if they are participating in “Reading with Ringling” program, our Public Library’s are handing out Ringling coloring books and free tickets to the circus. Make sure you tell your Libraries about how Ringling treats their animals.

Scott your statement really shows your maturity level, don’t you have to be at least 13 to submit a comment.

Jim

February 14th, 2010
8:59 am

Yes, yes, and yes – they DO belong in the circus.
And Scott, you are an idiot ~ and Linda needs to get a life.

Scott

February 14th, 2010
7:36 am

circus ELEPHANTS are boring!

if the circus would feed californian peta emos to the lions… i would pay for front row tickets!!!

linda b

February 14th, 2010
4:20 am

I don’t believe in circuses or zoos and would never visit either of them. No animal should ever be taken captive and forcefully trained to “entertain” the public.This is not entertainment but down right cruelty.The public should be “aware” that to visit these circuses you are condoning and contributing to the hellish suffering that these majestic creatures have to endure.The governments should step in and ban these horrible places and free the animals. “Boycot Circuses”.

Eye's wide open

February 13th, 2010
7:35 pm

Parents you must know that by taking your children to the circus you are perpetuating the abuse of these performing animals. Google “Circus Elephant Abuse” and you will be saddened at what you see. Please find another way to introduce your children to animals, zoos are more humane then the circus.
Ringling Statement:
Ringling has never been adjudged to have violated the Animal Welfare Act.
Reality:
Ringling attempts to confuse the issue with legal terminology. Each citation by the USDA is an indication that federal inspectors found that Ringling Bros. is failing to comply with the minimum requirements of the Animal Welfare Act.
In addition to being cited on inspection reports, Ringling has also been warned by the USDA for causing trauma and stress to two baby elephants who suffered painful rope lesions when they were prematurely pulled from their mothers and for improper euthanasia after a caged tiger was shot to death. Ringling also paid a $20,000 penalty to settle USDA charges of failing to provide veterinary care to a sick baby elephant named Kenny who died shortly after he was forced to perform.
Abuse is still abuse whether you are human or animal.

Sarita

February 13th, 2010
6:35 pm

Its a shame that human arrogance has reached new heights of torture and pain especially at Ringling Bros. Ringling Bros known for its torture and pain inflicted to animals, may keep denying but everybody now knows the reality behind the scenes especially after the training video was viewed by many on the internet. Noone can now deny what happens to baby elephants while training.
I pray that every mother sees this video and makes sure that she doesnot take her kids to such a show where God’s creations live and die a life of torture, pain, fear and solitude. May love and peace prevail in every human heart!!!

Julie R

February 13th, 2010
5:56 pm

If anyone actually believes that Ringling treats the animals well go to circuses.com and look at the photos and the video of Ringling training the elephants. The baby elephant photos were taken by a former Ringling employee who became disgusted with the way the animals are treated. Does anyone really believe an 8,000 pound elephant would want to stand on it’s head? The elephants are taken from their mothers as tiny babies and then chained and beaten and shocked into submission. Training tools are chains, ropes, bullhooks, and electric shock devices. Just look at the baby elephants expressions in the photos, they look like they want to scream “why are you doing this to me?” Intelligent and beautiful animals are forced to suffer torturous lives so people can enjoy a few hours of entertainment. It is disgusting.