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?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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?

For instant updates, follow @insideaccess on Twitter.

87 comments Add your comment

Patricia Panitz

February 22nd, 2010
1:37 pm

To those who think that Ringling “won” the recent lawsuit against it – in reality the judge ruled that the animal defenders DID NOT HAVE LEGAL STANDING (meaning that you have to be directly effected) to pursue this suit. He didn’t rule on the merits of the case. His ruling was rather disingenuous because animals obviously can’t sue themselves. Animal defenders are in the process of trying to establish standing so they can sue on behalf of animals. I hope this case is appealed.

Tasha Piontek

February 21st, 2010
9:32 pm

It is a tricky question- those whom posed the question about zoos. I have yet to see a zoo that is capable of duplicating the environment an ele needs to survive mentally and socially. The Tennesee Sanctuary is a beautiful option for them. I understand to fall in love with a creature you need to first experience it. But isn’t there a better way than through torture and imprisonment in circuses and some zoos? Many are well meaning- few are capable. We need to unite on what cruelty is- it should mean the same thing for all creatures. Their basic needs should be supplied. Wouldn’t that be the very least you would expect for yourself?

“Elephants are highly social and intelligent! According to reputable elephant experts, elephants have three basic needs: vast acreage, compatible herd members and live vegetation as food.”

I applaud the efforts of some zoos with their enrichment services. Most are not enough however for elephants.

Let me put it to you like this.. there are people whom still say “It is just a dog.” a part of them may even love it- but they still think of it as an alien creature amongst them. Then there are those of us whom have let in those other creatures to another part of ourselves. “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Anatole France said. He was right. And there are those of us that have gone that step further.

It is my hope that those whom have not yet had their souls awakened to that other part- will find it someday- hopefully sooner than later so that more suffering will be ended. This goes not only for the elephants but for many species including humans. Maybe I am rambling- but there is truth in it. Until your freedom, family and basic needs have been stripped away- or until you have perhaps placed yourself in one’s shoes, hooves, big padded ele feet– do NOT think that you know what is right. Unless you’d enjoy being caged, beaten, deprived of medical care and your basic social, physical and emotional needs.. do not support any circus.

Investigate further before just going along with the status quo. That too may be changing. Let’s hope! I already see here a lot of people whom ‘get it’ and really care.

Rhea Preston

February 21st, 2010
2:17 pm

Absolutely NOT!!! Animals should not be used solely as a source of entertainment!!!… as much as I love watching my animals and yes, they do entertain me… I love them and I snuggle with them, they sleep with me in my bed and I would never ever abuse them!!! The circus animals are used and abused in a horrible manner!!! They’re regarded only as a means to making money! I pray for the day that it becomes illegal to use animals in any circus!!! Peace.

PS… Animals… I am 100% vegan… I don’t own a wallet nor do I wear any make-up. My clothing and shoes are made of hemp. Yes… I do have pets… but they are domesticated animals… not wild!!! If you want “a great format for your children” sit down and read a book on wild animals with them. Get real… the circus abuses it’s animals and the abuse isn’t going to just suddenly end!!! “As long as their humanely treated”… the problem is, is that they are NOT!!! It’s like telling your 8 year old child to play nicey nice with her/his worst enemy… it’s just not going to happen!!! Please educate yourself a bit more on the happenings behind closed doors within the circus before you post a comment. Thank you.

Tasha Piontek

February 21st, 2010
12:07 pm

These elephants are not being cared for properly. Even the handlers whom care deeply for them do not have the correct behavioral training, and resources to keep these beautiful creatures happy, healthy beings. As our culture evolves perhaps we will see that it is not ok impose such harsh lifestyle and depression on any creature just for our own amusement. This is dangerous and cruel buisness. If you awaken to the reality of it- you can not support it. It would belike supporting puppy mills, dancing bears and dog fighting. Wake up people. What once we thought was ok- we now know is not. Remember that people were once widely enslaved as well. Not cool. Not humane. NOT entertaining. Take a closer look.

Patty Shenker

February 21st, 2010
11:37 am

No wild animals should be allowed in circuses. Al of them, whether they are elephants, big cats or primates, are beaten, brutally & repeatedly as well as other horrific ways of controlling wild animals, like depriving them of food & water. It is morally wrong! Just because it’s been this way for years is not a valid reason. The truth is these circuses are cruel, dangerous to people & animals and totally unnecessary. Too bad that these pathetic circuses don’t heave enough human talent to be successful- like the AMAZING CIRQUE DU SOLEIL!!!


February 21st, 2010
1:52 am

Elephants do not belong in a circus. The country that Iive in (Sweden) has put a ban on using wild animals in circuses, along with a few other countries. This ban should be applied worldwide as wild animals do not belong in circuses. It’s appaling that they should be confined to small spaces, abusing and bad treatment in order to amuse a public.

I cannot understand how people can find plesure in looking at abused animals performing tricks!

and yes – we have circuses here to:)

Eye's wide open

February 19th, 2010
4:51 pm

Ringling Bros Circus says they put on the “Greatest Show on Earth” so there is no reason why they cannot entertain people with people instead of Elephants and the other animals that they have to abuse and beat to train them to perform. This solution would remedy this dilemma for the Elephants and the Circus could go on to perform using People Entertainment.


February 19th, 2010
12:42 pm

I will never, ever go to a circus with any kind of animal. The thought of those poor animals being trucked around all over the country and exercised in parking lots is sickening.

Pam Holt

February 17th, 2010
6:10 pm

I am so relieved to see there are slightly more compassionate people than those that think it’s OK to treat animals like this and, scarier still, you are teaching your children that and we can look forward to more heartlessness from them as they enter adulthood.

Thank you for this article that helps give a voice to the voiceless… to speak for the majestic creatures that stay chained most of the time, travel all over creation in cramped quarters in extreme conditions with minimal breaks, and are trained with fear by using bullhooks in sensitive areas like the underarm to hide the wounds. Animal Circuses SUCK!

Eye's wide open

February 17th, 2010
6:51 am

Abuse is a topic that some people don’t want to hear about because it pops their illusions, and if they have a conscientious they can’t pretend anymore they didn’t know about this abuse, they realize that their childhood illusions that the Circus Elephants are loved and treated like family members was all a Big Lie.
If anyone still has doubts about whether Circus Elephants are abused, you should read the 15 page statement made by Sammy Haddock, who worked as an elephant trainer with Ringling Bros Circus. So seldom are people brave enough to expose a wealthy entertainment giant like Feld Entertainment (who owns Ringling). But Sammy Haddock was so ashamed of the part he played in abusing these elephants especially the babies that his guilty conscientious wouldn’t allow him to remain silent.
So there is no confusion about who’s side I am on I am on the side of these Circus Elephants and any animal that is not humanely treated.