Plight of elephants shadows circus

July 15, 2010
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Animal rights activists stand facing toward crowds of people entering the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at the Staples Center. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

Animal rights activists protested the first day of performances by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus yesterday, accusing the troupe of being cruel to its elephants.

Demonstrators lined up outside the Staples Center on Figueroa Street and in front of its box office attempting to dissuade people from attending the circus. They say Ringling Bros. uses physically abusive tactics to train and control its elephants, as well as exposes them to intolerable conditions during travel.

A costumed protester stands on Figueroa Street demonstrating against Ringling Bros. treatment of elephants. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

According to an article by Truthout.org, at least 26 elephants have died since 1992 at Ringling Bros. It is assumed that many of them died of mycobacterium-tuberculosis, which is capable of being transmitted to humans.

Amanda Fortino, a campaign coordinator for PETA, said that baby elephants are electrocuted, whipped and hit with bullhooks by circus trainers asserting their control over the animals. She also says that babies are taken away from their mothers too early.

“To tear them away from their mothers is a tragedy,” she said.

For elephants, being removed from one’s family is no small matter. Familial bonds are intensely strong among the animals. In the wild, females stay with their families their entire life. Males stick around until the age of 14, then leave to eventually form families of their own.

But Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Bros. maintains the treatment of their elephants is exceptional. According to an “Elephant Care Fact Sheet” released by Feld, “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey elephants are healthy and well cared for by a team of full time veterinarians, and each elephant receives regular, thorough medical examinations.”

Radio host Bob Linden speaks into a bullhorn at people entering the Ringling Bros. circus. “Step right up. It’s the cruelest show on Earth,” he says. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

On Dec. 30, 2009, a lawsuit against Feld Entertainment regarding the mistreatment of  its elephants was dismissed. Several animal rights organizations argued that Ringling Bros. had violated certain aspects of the Endangered Species Act due to the use of bullhooks and elephants being chained for long periods of time.

In 1995, Ringling Bros. established its Center for Elephant Conservation, a 200-acre facility in Florida for the conservation, breeding and study of elephants. They promote the facility as a means of preserving Asian elephants, an endangered species, as well as providing a “retirement home” for elephants who are too old to perform.

However, photos on the PETA Web site, ringlingbeatsanimals.com, show a baby elephant in ropes and chains receiving blows from a bullhook during an alleged training session at what looks like Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation.

Steve Garrison stands in front of the box office at the Staples Center as people purchase tickets to the Ringling Bros. circus. He holds a placard that calls attention to the treatment of elephants at the circus. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

Catherine Doyle, director of the In Defense of Animals’ Elephant Campaign, is not impressed by the facility or Feld’s claims. She said the facility provides no ideal life for elephants.

“The truth is far different from what you see on their Web site,” she said. “It is not a retirement facility.”

Protesters at yesterday’s demonstration carried placards both in English and Spanish. PETA member Megan Crawford, 18, handed out information concerning Ringling Bros. treatment of elephants. She says this was her first protest.

“After watching videos of animal cruelty, it made me want to come out here,” she said. “We are the animal’s voice. We need to speak out for them.”

Crawford said she found most people attending the circus didn’t want to think about how Ringling Bros. treated their elephants. She said many parents told their children not to look at any photos or literature about abuses.

Nick Diaz, 11, hands out pamphlets while protesting the circus in front of the Staples Center. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

Also handing out pamphlets was Nick Diaz, 11. He too got involved in animal rights after seeing videos of abuse. “I felt so sorry for the animals,” he said.

Diaz took issue with the methods Ringling Bros. uses, such as using bullhooks and electricity, to train and control its animals.

“People say you need to use those things to train them, but why train them?” he said. “Why use animals for people’s amusement?”

Several protestors were dressed in costumes to get attention. Heather Hamza came dressed as a circus performer, wanting people to think she was with the Ringling Bros. troupe.

“These animals are not willing participants of the circus,” she said. “If you could speak elephant, they would tell us they do not want to be doing these things.”

But for people in line to attend the circus, the issue of animal abuse was not such a black-and-white issue. Many expressed indifference to the protesters trying to get their attention.

“I guess it’s a cultural thing,” said Alex Gomez, a long-time fan of bullfighting who emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. “I know it’s cruelty, but it’s a part of my life.”

Standing in line, Kevin Jones was also indifferent towards the protesters. “They have their reasons to do what they do, but I want my kids to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.”

However, two protesters reported they saw two families planning to go to the circus leave without attending after reading pamphlets handed to them from animal rights activists.

For Linda Hackett, a supporter of In Defense of Animals, she looks at the long-term effects of these demonstrations as opposed to the short-term.

“These protests are hard for some people – a little bit of overload, but it plants seeds,” she said. “I feel like we touched some hearts and minds today.”

Activists intend to continue the protests through to the eighteenth when the circus ends.

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4 Responses to Plight of elephants shadows circus

  1. Nick Frankie on July 16, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Its great to see so many people becoming aware. Last Fridays protest was the biggest ever in Los Angeles. There are lots of good people behind the protest signs, and some overly aggressive as well. At the end of the day, people are people and we come in all forms. There is no doubt that anyone holding a sign had the best intentions and certainly were reacting from their hearts. Alex Gomez is obviously going to hell, ok maybe not(or maybe so) but he certainly is not seeing the big picture. Both Kevin and Alex choose to be part of the problem and that is what they are teaching their children. Simply sad!

  2. Lana on July 16, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    It’s great to see so many people from different backgrounds come together for the greater good. It’s also sad & disturbing to hear people like Alex Gomez say things like “I know it’s cruelty, but it’s a part of my life.” WOW! I’m of Mexican decent and that plays no roll in me knowing right from wrong. What an embarrassment he is! And Kevin Jones’ “But I want my kids to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.” There’s no substance behind their reasoning for still choosing to attend the circus.Regardless of culture or tradition abuse is abuse and cruelty is cruelty. I hope they both evolve one day! On a positive note I was glad to see the parents who chose not to attend and who took an active role in actually talking to their children who were asking about the abuse.

  3. Michelle Diaz on September 30, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I am Nick Diaz’ mom. I am so proud that he chooses to fight for animals. He and his sister, Delfina, also pictured here, turned away many circus goers. Children are inherently compassionate and sympathetic. We should nurture that in them while they are young.

  4. kelli on February 23, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Excellent work by the demonstrators. I hope we continue to see a RISE in circus protests and a DECLINE in animal circuses. GREAT work everyone!

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