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

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.

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


February 16th, 2010
9:08 pm

Animals DO NOT belong in the circus. They are WILD animals and it is unnatural for them to be trained to do tricks. WILD animals belong in the wild or in a zoo or sanctuary if “we” have decimated populations that bad. Does anyone remember Tyke? Tyke was an elephant who “freaked out” or maybe he got his revenge? at a circus in Hawaii and he trampled and killed his trainer and run rampant on the roads until he was brought down by tons of police and about 50 bullets. When the circus comes to town — don’t go.


February 16th, 2010
9:47 am

Eyes wide open – please do not clog this board with the same points. Your posts are bordering on spam and your accusations are severe – an AJC reporter should be on this including the DOJ, USDA and the FBI. Namaste.

Eye's wide open

February 16th, 2010
8:23 am

In the past 10 years, 13 Ringling Elephants have died 6 had osteoarthritis, which is caused by the constant chaining on concrete floors, some died because of TB, 8 month old Ricardo was being trained to stand on a tub when he fell off breaking both back legs he had to be euthanized, others died of unknown causes according to Ringling.
Ringling considers these elephants death the cost of doing business, they will just breed some more to replace the ones who have died. After all their motto is, “The show must go on.”
Ringling had one year old baby Barack touring earlier this year, when he came down with a deadly virus, thankfully they pulled him from the tour. But in another year, if he survives, baby Barack will be separated from his Mother forever and the beatings will begin to train him to perform in the circus. By the time he is 8, he will be too big and dangerous to travel, so Ringling will put him behind bars until he dies, he will never be allowed outside again.
The Human equivalent to a Circus Elephants life is putting a human infant on death row in prison for the rest of their lives.
If it looks like abuse, sounds like abuse, then these Elephants are being abused. Parents you can stop this abuse now, just don’t take your families to a circus that can’t put on a show without Elephants and other animals.


February 16th, 2010
7:30 am

Some more points…

If you have replaced your leather with plastic, shame on you for polluting the oceans with your non-degradable waste, clogging up the fish chain and choking the birds.

Yes, you need to also stop all dairy products including chocolate and cakes…forget butter too and go munch on some margarine.

As for eating plants, do you know they are more evolved than us? Check out the facts – look at their gene counts, look at how they manipulate us [animals] into dependencies…and survival.

ok i’ll get off my non-tallowated soap box now.


February 16th, 2010
7:17 am

Yes we want the animals at the circus. It’s a great format for the children – the adults have Cirque’soleil for amusement.

As long as they are humanely treated – I’m OK with it.

If you really care about animals in captivity, stop supporting your zoos, stop eating meat, do not buy any leather products [check your wallet] and if you fall sick do not seek any medical treatment…and forget about cosmetics :) Of course the WORST offenders are Pet Owners !!! please release all your creatures to the wild.


Jamie Gumbrecht

February 16th, 2010
12:47 am

Hey folks, I really appreciate the variety of perspectives showing up here. I’m just jumping in to remind you that in order to keep to remind everybody that in order to keep the discussion going, we need to show respect for each other. Please don’t resort to name-calling and insults, or nobody will learn anything. Let’s keep the conversation moving forward. Thank you!

'Just Get Real!!!' is a moron

February 15th, 2010
11:31 pm

‘Just Get Real!!!’ – “Elephants have been performing for years”. Wow, well I guess that makes everything alright then. People like you live in your own little bubble, thinking if you deny something enough then it’s reality. You really should sample the 21st Century – it’s a very enlightened time.

Just because something has been done “for years” doesn’t make it right. Slavery was done “for years”. Women didn’t have equal rights…”for years”. “For years” child labor was legal in this country. And, more on topic, “for years” zoo animals were kept in concrete cages too; thankfully more enlightened folks realized a few decades ago that natural habitats are a better alternative. Thank God that people have finally started to address the problem with circuses.

Having said that, and as long as I’m posting, I understand the importance of conservation efforts of zoos, but the elephant habitat at Zoo Atlanta is WAY too small. It really saddens me to see those huge, magnificant creatures in such a confined space. ZA needs to focus less on constantly adding new species and creating better habitats for the animals already under its care.

Eye's wide open

February 15th, 2010
6:20 pm

This information is for People who care about the humane treatment of elephants: Sammy Haddock worked with circus elephants over the course of 30 years. He spent the last several years of his career as a trainer at Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation. Haddock died last month at 53, leaving behind a damning indictment of his former employer. It appears that he was fulfilling a promise made to his dying wife (“Before she died, she told me, ‘Sammy, I know you’ll do the right thing’”) to expose the inherent cruelty in training circus elephants. He approached PETA (an unlikely alliance; Haddock ate meat and hunted doves) this past spring, and in August signed a 15-page notarized declaration that included many of his own pictures from the workplace. He explained how elephants were trained to perform popular tricks by employing multiple men, ropes, and, of course, bullhooks. Referring to one picture, Haddock said, “The baby elephant is slammed to the ground. See its mouth is wide open? It’s screaming bloody murder. It doesn’t have its mouth open for a carrot.” From the declaration: “When pulling 18-24-month-old babies, the mother is chained against the wall by all four legs. Usually there’s 6 or 7 staff that go in to pull the baby rodeo style. …Some mothers scream more than others while watching their babies being roped. …Once they’re pulled from their mothers, they’ve tasted their last bit of freedom and the relationship with their mother ends.” They will spend 23 hours of their day restrained. Once inside the training tent, loud music is played to “drown out the baby’s screaming” and to adapt them to the circus atmosphere. Ringling’s training regimen included “…brute force, electricity, and a savage disposition. Raising a baby elephant at Ringling is like raising a kid in jail.”

Ria van Rosmalen

February 15th, 2010
5:33 pm

NO, NO, Elephants don’t belong in a circus. They belong in nature, they have the right to be FREE. Not for entertament!!!!!! I have work by Friends of The Elephants (netherlands) I’ve seen the Elephants in the wild in Kenia and by Daphne Sheldrick, I’ll never go to a circus, Never!

Just Get Real!!!

February 15th, 2010
3:34 pm

“Eye’s wide open”…

Why don’t you just go ahead and post a copy of YOUR PETA membership card for all to see…!!!

If you feel so strong about elephant causes in general why don’t you take a trip to Africa and help with the REAL elephant abuse cause…POACHERS who are hunting the wild elephants for their ivory in countries that our federal government supports through “humanitarian aid”. If we don’t we get accused of not supporting the “poor” third world nations while all the time having the monies and supplies we send over there stolen by the leaders of these countries that support the illegal elephant hunting!!! There you go, here’s a real cause to go do something about!!!

Now leave Ringling Bros. alone and let the folks who buy tickets to their SOLD OUT performances enjoy a bit of Americana!!!