When the circus ends, what will happen to its animal prisoners?

By Roland zh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
By Stephen Young Magruder

To animal activists throughout the country, Saturday’s announcement that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus would hold its last performance in May was cause for celebration.

To all the animals still held captive by the company that runs the circus, however, serious questions remain regarding their future well-being.

The Humane Party, the first American political party committed to rights for all animals—not just the human kind—applauds the decision to shut down any enterprise that causes suffering to sentient beings.  It also calls for all victims of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus to be given immediate and permanent sanctuary.

The ending of the once popular yet increasingly controversial circus comes less than a year after elephants were removed from all performances following pressure from animal rights groups and allegations of animal abuse.

The Associated Press reported that other non-human animals still being used by the circus, including lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas, would go to “suitable homes” following the final performances.  No details were provided.

“Ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop,” wrote Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, the producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

After gaining freedom from the long train rides and forced performances across the country in 2016, the remaining elephants from the circus were moved to a somewhat dubious facility founded in 1995 by the same company that forced them into captivity in the first place.

The Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Florida, continues the tradition of animal exploitation.  It proudly states that it uses blood collected from its captive elephants for pediatric cancer research studies.

“Their slavery has only changed from traveling in a show to being used for medical research,” Former Humane Party CEO Robin Miller wrote Monday.  “At least people saw and could report abuse [in the circus].  Now, it is all in secret.”

In addition to using the elephants for cancer research and a variety of artificial insemination procedures, employees from the center were shown in a 2016 video by The Washington Post using ropes, chains and bullhooks to control the movement of these extremely sensitive and intelligent animals.

“The training is going to continue.  Probably it’ll have to even, almost, on some levels, be more, ‘cause, ya know, we don’t know what we want from ‘em, so you have to be ready for anything,” Animal Stewardship Manager Trudy Williams said in the video.  “To me, a well-trained animal has a lot more freedom than one that isn’t very well-trained.”

By comparison, Tennessee’s Elephant Sanctuary currently houses 11 elephants rescued from zoos and circuses.  One of only two sanctuaries certified by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, it does not breed captive elephants or use bullhooks or dominance training.

PETA, the largest animal rights organization in the world, posted a message on its website declaring the circus closure a “victory” after 36 years of protests.

“All other animal circuses, roadside zoos, and wild animal exhibitors, including marine amusement parks like SeaWorld and the Miami Seaquarium, must take note: society has changed, eyes have been opened, people know now who these animals are, and we know it is wrong to capture and exploit them,” the organization wrote Saturday.