One last curtain call.
That’s all that is left for the performing circus elephants of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Sunday, May 1 will see the gentle giants put on a show for the kids one last time at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I.
This final performance comes with mixed emotions from the public and circus industry, alike. Some see the memorable performances of their childhood as a milestone of growing up, wishing the same for their children and children’s children. Others point to the stagnant nature of the animals’ daily life as an indication for change. Still more are somewhere in the middle – a balancing act of reminiscence and animal rights.
The Ringling Bros. organization decided in favor of retiring circus elephants after the overarching public opinion regarding performing service animals has changed for the negative. Numerous negative exposés that have come to light in recent history quickly turned public opinion sour on the once nearly-universal form of children’s entertainment. Animal activist groups such as PETA and PAWS have slammed the famous circus organization, prompting the retirement of the iconic circus elephants.
While the elephants will be retired to their final permanent homes in Orlando, Florida following Sunday’s performance, the writing for elephant retirement has been on the Big Top wall for some time. Many communities, cities, and counties have outlawed the use of performance service animals – making finding much-needed space nearly impossible for Ringling Bros. and other travelling shows with performing animals. Public outcry – as it does- quickly turned to legislative action, and the circus industry was forced out of town before they could even ceremonially roll in.
Ringling Bros. performed over 1000 elephant performances each year for 143 years. The elimination of these performances means 1000 less chances for children to see these majestic giants up close. For some this is disconcerting; an indication of a snowballing effect where 20-30 years down the road, children have only pictures, stories, and trinkets to remember being so close to their animal kingdom brethren after continued legislation stops all forms of animal performances, altogether.
For now, however, up-close encounters with animals are yet to be completely eliminated. Despite the elephants’ retirement, Ringling Bros. says it will continue on with its lion, tiger, and dog & cat shows moving forward.
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