Plight of elephants shadows circus
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.