'The end of an era': "Greatest Show on Earth"! Ringling Bros circus closes curtain on elephant shows...........
After the last-ever circus to feature elephants, capping 145 years of elephant shows and decades of pressure from animal activists, two professional clowns walked into a bar to reflect on the state of the circus industry.“It’s the end of an era,” said Crickett McGrath, sipping a gin and tonic. “It’s older than baseball.”
“And Coca-Cola,” added Anthony Hoang.
In Providence, Kellyann, a four-ton Asian elephant renowned for amusing her fellow entertainers with rude noises by pressing her foot to her trunk and emitting air, took her final bow along with five other females. The elephants stood on their hind legs, feigned sleep and spun on circular podiums, shorter than the elephants are wide, dancing to choruses of “This is the greatest show on earth!”
Feld Entertainment has fought lawsuits against animal rights groups in the past. In 2014, it won a $16 million dollars settlement, and in 2011 the USDA fined it $270,000 for Animal Welfare Act violations after Mother Jones reported the elephants spent most of their lives chained, were often whipped with bull hooks, and were left in cages full of feces.
None of the efforts of animal rights groups appeared to have any direct impact on the circus until last year, when local government began taking action. Los Angeles and Oakland both banned the use of bullhooks, short hooked poles used to train and instruct elephants; and Asheville, North Carolina, banned performing elephants at the 7,600-seat US Cellular Center.
The company’s response to criticism seemed to be written into the show script Sunday night. “We have the healthiest, happiest and most physically fit herd in the world!” boomed ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, as a half dozen female elephants strolled into the arena in a neat line, trunk grasping tail.
Dropping the elephant act and moving the animals to the Ringling Brothers Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida is not an admission of guilt, said Feld spokesman Stephen Payne, who insists that nothing about the training or the touring process is abusive. “You cannot make 9,000lbs do what 9,000lbs doesn’t want to do,” said Payne.
Answering concerns that the elephants are taken away from their mothers too young and spend much of their lives in chains, Payne said they were separated at around two to three years old and were tethered only at night, “so they don’t disturb each other”.
The history of the mistreatment of elephants is as long as the history of the circus itself. One called Jumbo was known to be fed large quantities of alcohol by his trainer, and was hit by a train. After his death, Barnum proceeded to take the beast’s skeleton on tour.
Meanwhile, Ringling Bros faces the challenge of coming up with a new act as popular as the elephants.
Circus aficionado Ernest Albrecht said taking elephants out of the show would cause irreparable damage to the event.
Several children at the Providence show reported having no interest in attending the show without elephants. “I hear elephants are endangered,” said Rama Colley, seven, who had seen Peta protesters outside the arena.
De Leonardo has no faith in the wellbeing of elephants at the Ringling Bros-run Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. “If they are calling it a sanctuary, it’s like calling a puppy mill a dog rescue,” he said.