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

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?

For instant updates, follow @insideaccess on Twitter.

87 comments Add your comment

Jamie Gumbrecht

February 24th, 2010
3:37 pm

Genny, the poll is not rigged to boost certain answers. It is set up so that there can be only one vote per IP address. Is it possible that someone has already voted while using the computer that you’re on? Regardless, I’ve submitted a ticket to our tech people to see if something is wrong with the polls on our publishing system. I’ll let you know if I hear anything back.


February 24th, 2010
3:32 pm

Your poll is fixed. You don’t want “YES” answers, do you?
I voted YES, and got a message “You Had Already Voted For This Poll. Poll ID #11″ – and that’s just BS – I hadn’t voted before, this is the first time I read your article. “You Can’t Handle The Truth” can you?

Laura Johnson

February 24th, 2010
8:33 am

Folks who think PETA is wonderful don’t know the truth. PETA kills animals…dogs and cats that are adoptable. Check it out. PETA also pays informants to work for animal owners, circuses, stores, etc. and “set up” situations which would be considered abusive. This is not news. And, PETA folks feel justified in their deceptive actions because they don’t believe humans should have any contact with animals, even pets. With regard to the elephants, these elephants have a greater chance of survival as a species on this planet by being included in a circus. They have a purpose. Otherwise, in the wild they are being hunted and killed ONLY for their tusks. Humans are wiping out wildlife because of poverty and the need to survive. Elephants in the circus and in the Ringling Brothers elephant farms are ALIVE and well. We should be thankful that there are circuses. Without them, elephants may disappear from the planet. Look to the good…living elephants.


February 23rd, 2010
10:10 pm

Just say “Hell No” to circus elephants !!!

PS: PETA is Great.

Diane A

February 23rd, 2010
8:17 pm
peta is one of the worse killers of animals in this country. anyone who thinks they are anything about animal welfare needs to go back to school.

Kitty C

February 23rd, 2010
6:57 pm

I think animals being forced to perform confusing, unnatural, painful, demeaning tricks in the cirucus is one of the saddest commentaries on human cruelty and greed and arrogance. Do you really enjoy seeing one of nature’s most magnificent animals, the elephant, stand on her head, do sit-ups, balance all 8000 lbs of her on a tiny stool, prance around in a circle one way and then do an about face and prance around the other direction. Do you really enjoy seeing a 1 year old baby being paraded around and forced to do stupid tricks, too. Do you ever stop to wonder how it is that these animals, elephants, lions, tigers, chimpanzee, zebras, etc. get from city to city day after day? They perform most of the year. Ringling produced documents that elephants, and the other animals, were in boxcars for up to 100 hours without being let out. Where do they urinate and defecate? Right where they stand. They are chained because, of course, if they get even the smalled opportunity they try to escape. Does this sound like the life you would want for them? Look a little bit more closely at the reality of the life of “performing circus animals” and you can’t possibly condone it. Humans can choose to be a traveling performer, if they get tired of it, they can just quit. Can the elephants “just quit” if they get tired of it? Elephant brains have a larger area where emotions are developed than humans do – think about that. A famous and compassionate former elephant trainer once said “If humans wanted to be better, they would be more like elephants”.

Eye's wide open

February 23rd, 2010
2:40 pm

When I hear comments like the one I just read, all I can do is hang my head, people like ES have no conscience and are a lost cause.
Eden Springs, Ringling has a circus elephant named Karen go pet her the next time you attend one of their shows.

Eden Springs

February 23rd, 2010
1:03 pm

You know what’s really odd? All these animals never used to break loose and stampede until PeTA began showing up regularly every time the Circus came to town. Too bad they don’t care one whit about human life; just hope some innocent person doesn’t get trampled to death because of their stupid shenanigans.

Anyone who think PeTA is all about protecting animals needs to visit http://www.petakillsanimals [dot]com and see how your donation dollars are really used. Nice work, Ingrid!


February 22nd, 2010
8:31 pm

Circuses can go on and on- with PEOPLE as the performers. Lions, Tigers, Bears and Elephants are not performers. They are sentient beings deprived of their comfort, health, and freedom by a greedy business encouraged to continue through the financial support of an uncaring populace-the circus audience. Don’t buy tickets. Discourage everyone you know from attending. In all likelihood the only way to stop this terrible animal abuse is to stop paying for it!

Eye's wide open

February 22nd, 2010
6:36 pm

World renowned elephant expert Dr. Joyce Poole, who was the first expert witness of the trial and has studied elephants her entire life, watching Ringling’s handlers was a little like watching Nazi’s conduct the Holocaust. “This is America,” she pleaded with the federal judge. “These animals should not be chained 20 hours a day, beaten with bull hooks and forced to perform these unnatural acts. They are extremely intelligent creatures, they mourn their dead, they use tools, they help their friends up when they are ill, they are extremely social.” At one point, while watching Feld Entertainment video of an Asian elephant…… Dr. Poole choked up.”

I read the entire trial transcripts, it is impossible to see and read all that evidence and not come to the same conclusion I did….these elephants have been abused everyday of their very long lives.

My conscience won’t allow me to remain silent about the horrible abuse of these Intelligent Mammals.

Till all circuses quit using animals in their shows OR my last breath, I’ll never stop speaking up on behalf of Elephants and all circus animals.