After incorporating elephants into their circus performances for over 125 years, Ringling Barnum And Bailey Circus is retiring elephants from The Greatest Show On Earth. Animal-rights activists are well pleased about hearing the news. “We’re very happy we’re going to see the day when Ringling Bros. stops using elephants in circuses and that we’re starting to see others go in that direction as well,” PETA spokeswoman Delcianna Winder said. “We would just like to see that day come sooner because for those animals on the road, every single day is a day of suffering.”
Trainers using bullhooks – long, hooked poles – as well as ropes and chains to handle the animals have caused criticism for many years. The Los Angeles City Council, for one, has banned not only the use of the bullhooks, but baseball bats, axe handles and pitchforks as well when handling the animals.
The Circus officials defended their treatment of the elephants, but they admitted that a change in the consumer tastes shows that they are becoming very “uneasy” with animal treatment during circus performances.
“I think there’s a level of thoughtfulness that people have now,” said Kenneth Feld, CEO of Field Entertainment, which owns Ringling Barnum And Bailey Circus. “I’m sorry my kids maybe won’t be able to see the elephants at Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey, but I think the great thing is we’re doing everything we can to ensure that they’re (elephants) going to be around for many generations.”
North America has the largest herd of Asian elephants, numbering 43. The oldest elephant is 69 years old and the youngest is two years old. The youngest was born at the Conservation Center located in Florida. Handlers there have known some of the elephants since birth. Apparently, these animals never become tame. If they did, there would be no need for the negative handling. “We’re going to be doing a lot of research and conservation with them, evolving all the time and bettering their care. Knowing more and more and learning everything about them is the most important thing for us. Our mission is to make sure there are elephants in North America for generations to come,” said Trudy Williams, one of the elephant handlers.
The Ringling Bros handlers also stated that keeping the elephants fed was a real project. The costs of maintaining an Asian elephant for one year runs around $65,000. The retired, non-earning, elephants eat approximately 150 pounds per day. The Asian Elephant diet consists mainly of hay, fruits, and vegetables.
Ringling Museum (The Ringling)
With the discontinuation of the elephant performers at Ringling Bros Circus, the only place you’ll be able to see the history of these creatures in the circus will be at The Ringling Museum, located at 5401 Bay Shore Road in Sarasota, Florida. Known simply as “The Ringling”, the Ringling museum of art features over 150,000 square feet of exhibit space, of which there is a special circus wing which was added to the museum in 1948 and was the first of its kind to document the history of the circus. The Ringling museum Sarasota features many items from past circuses including posters, handbills, prints, circus business records, wardrobe items, circus props, circus equipment, and even parade wagons. A terrific model of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus built by Howard Tibbals is displayed at the Ringling museum. The replica is labeled the “world’s largest miniature circus”.
Ringling museum hours: Open daily 10:00am-5:00pm (8pm on Thurs)
Contact Ringling museum: 941-359-5700
Ringling museum of art admission prices (daily):
Senior 65+: $23
Student 18+ with ID: $5
Child 6-17: $5
Children 5 and under: Free
Florida teachers with ID: $10
US Active Military: $10
You may also purchase multi-day passes for an extended visit.