What Happens When Elephants Leave the Ring?

Elephant with Raised Trunk

You may have heard that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will be phasing out the use of elephants in the circus. With the announcement comes a host of questions entangled with this victory. The most immediate might be, “Why are they waiting until 2018?” or “Why only elephants?” Has there been more public outcry for elephants than there has been for other animals used in the circus? Do we believe that elephants have characteristics that other “circus” animals do not? Does this therefore justify subjecting the others to continued cruelty in circuses? Is it just a matter of time before other animals will be phased out?

These questions have yet to be answered, and they shine a light on an underlying question of Claim Humane: Can humans reach full consciousness if we continue to use animals as utility or resource?

This question suggests that by using animals as such we are engaging in unethical behavior. For argument’s sake, let’s assume it is unethical to use animals in circuses. If, in the future, we choose to stop using them in circuses, we must consider the impact this will have on the humans involved in circuses and on the circus goers.

Impact on Circus Employees

For some circus employees, a loss of work is inevitable. This begs the question, “Can drawing revenue from an activity justify participating in it?” We only have to look at the historical arc of slavery to understand that a great majority of people do not believe so. By ending slavery (as an acceptable practice) we aligned ourselves with a kinder and gentler way of being, a way that had potential to guide us towards greater compassion and consciousness.

A next logical question is how to tend to the financial needs of those who will lose their jobs. We tend to operate under the assumption that ending a practice/industry inherently means stagnation in the economy. It can, but it does not have to. We can be, and historically have been, creative in inventing new industries or redesigning existing ones. Regarding circuses, this has already begun. Consider Cirque De Soleil, a highly successful circus that uses only the amazing feats of willing humans.

Impact on Circus Goers

The ways to entertain oneself are endless, so it seems that any significant impact is self-induced. Parents often object when confronted with not bringing their children to circuses that use animals. They question if it’s fair for children to not see animals in the circus.

This begs the question, “How selfish are our entertainment habits?” A great number of circus animals are captured from the wild, often witnessing the killing of their mother. They are then repeatedly beaten and deprived of food and water in order to break their spirits so that they’ll then perform unnatural, and often dangerous, acts. (For example, elephants’ trunks are not designed to bear the weight of their bodies in a headstand).

If we are aware of this and continue to support animal-based circuses, what does that say about our level of compassion?

Impact on Society

We must also consider what we are teaching (children in particular) when we enslave and brutalize animals to perform for us. One thing we are teaching is that dominance and brutality are acceptable and worthy of perpetuating. When this mentality is overlaid onto ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­other social structures, we run the risk of this becoming a social norm. Desensitization occurs, and we are more likely to accept treating all beings with great disregard.

A final consideration is this: If we remove animals from the circus altogether, are we not losing cultural and traditional practices? The short answer is yes. And the question that this begs is how can cultural and traditional practices justify cruelty?

I’d love to know your thoughts on these questions and on the recent news of phasing out elephants from major circus shows.


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