May 8, 2016
Ringling pulls elephants years ahead of schedule
In a move just about every side is taking credit for, Ringling Brothers Circus announced it would “retire” its performing elephants in early May, two years before the planned date.
By May 11, teams of elephants who have been performing together for decades will be off-loaded from trains and trucks for the final time to finish their days in Central Florida on a 200-acre farm for retired circus animals.
The retirement has been planned for some time, mostly in response to public outcry fueled by negative PR and activist activity. The company said initially the plan was to have all the elephants off the road by 2018, but sped up the timetable because they realized they could. The situation was all logistics, according to the company. They thought their resources were more limited and they needed more time to prepare. That turned out not to be the case.
Activists, of course, are calling shenanigans on that argument. They are claiming victory while further excoriating the circus for continuing to use any animals in its performances at all. Ringling denies this and says they have no plans to pull other animals from their shows.
While Ringling says public relations played no part in their decision to pull the elephants early, CEO Kenneth Feld told National Geographic activists concerned for the elephants were creating a problem at his company’s events.
“We’re in the entertainment business. It takes away from the total enjoyment when you’re getting yelled at, and your kids are getting yelled at by these activists,” Feld said.
In addition to activist activity at events, the company faced multiple lawsuits alleging animal cruelty. Even though Ringling won all their lawsuits, the company still had to face local legislators who had been feeling the heat from angry constituents.
“You can win every lawsuit, but you can’t fight city hall,” Feld told Nat Geo.
City Hall, however, is not claiming victory here. Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle lauded Ringling’s announcement, saying:
“For wild animals whose natural habitat is outdoors, life in a traveling show is filled with unending misery … all so they can perform silly tricks.”
Ringling could punch back, saying many of these animals are not wild and could not, in fact, survive long in the wild. This is just part of the winning arguments from their legal cases … but Feld knows this isn’t the right time to engage adversaries that are already reloading. Some have already taken aim at the place the elephants will be retired, calling it just as cruel … a battle and a narrative Ringling will likely face sooner rather than later.