Ringling announcement an indicator of broader shift toward animal protection

By on January 16, 2017 with 92 Comments

It was the second thunderbolt from Ringling Bros. in the span of two years – a little more than a flash of time in the company’s 146-year history, but as dramatic and sensational as one could imagine. On Saturday night, during a long holiday weekend when people aren’t paying as much attention to the news and when most reporters are off duty, Ringling announced to the Associated Press that it was shuttering its entire business and brand come May. The company’s prior announcement, in March 2015, that it was ending its use of elephants and traveling acts had been remarkable enough. This was extraordinary, head-spinning news.

The biggest brand in exotic animal acts announced that there’s no viable future in that line of work. The parent company has monster trucks, ice skating, and other forms of spectator entertainment that are generating profits and drawing crowds. Those forms remain viable. But not elephants doing head stands and tigers and lions jumping through hoops.

So much of the public just doesn’t go for it any longer. The animal-based circus looks and feels archaic. What’s more, we now know about the social and emotional lives of these animals, and the endless privation for these creatures living in near constant confinement or tethered to chains. With other forms of entertainment available to the American public – typified by the circuses without animals, represented most vividly and compellingly by an elegant suite of Cirque de Soleil shows— why put the animals through the grinding travel, the long-term confinement, and the coercive training techniques?

As I say in The Humane Economy, if you are part of the old, inhumane economy – grounded on exploiting animals — get a new business plan or get out of the way. Ringling decided to get out of the way.

In the wake of Ringling’s first announcement, ending the use of elephants in traveling acts, California and Rhode Island adopted policies forbidding the use of bullhooks in handling elephants, demonstrating that government has a complementary role to play in ending such animal cruelty.

In the wake of Ringling’s first announcement, ending the use of elephants in traveling acts, California and Rhode Island adopted policies forbidding the use of bullhooks in handling elephants, demonstrating that government has a complementary role to play in ending animal cruelty. Photo by Alamy

This is a win for our entire movement – not just one organization. Opposing the use of wild animals in traveling acts united so many animal organizations, even though it was the top concern for but a few. Animal advocates have been banging away at the cruelty and the wrongfulness of animal performances for decades. But in the last few years, the steady drumbeat of argument that there is something wrong with the mistreatment and display of wild animals penetrated the consciousness of the country and ultimately exerted its effect as consumers simply went elsewhere. Ken Feld, the CEO of the company, said that attendance was dropping and that he simply didn’t see a profitable future for the company.

In the wake of Ringling’s first announcement, ending the use of elephants in traveling acts, California and Rhode Island adopted policies forbidding the use of bullhooks in handling elephants, and there was more in the works as a way of eliminating the remaining circuses exploiting elephants. This second major announcement from Ringling is likely to expand the hopes of animal advocates to do away with traveling exotic animal acts everywhere. Ringling had long been the most adamant defender of wild-animal acts, but with the company out of that business, it’s very unlikely it will continue to play that role.

The marketplace is leading the way here. But as California, Rhode Island, and a number of local communities have demonstrated, government has a complementary role to play. Generally speaking, government-based rules forbidding animal cruelty sweep up the outliers, and that’s as it should be.

A tip of the hat to the leadership of Ringling. They’ve been bitter adversaries of The HSUS for decades, but they’ve done the right thing here. It had to be a very difficult decision, given the immense financial and emotional investments they had in this business, but closing the curtain is the right thing to do — in terms of moral and economic thinking.

After years-long anti-soring campaign, USDA bans torture of walking horses

By on January 13, 2017 with 145 Comments
After years-long anti-soring campaign, USDA bans torture of walking horses

Pushed to act by a series of HSUS undercover investigations and a national campaign that attracted the support of more than 300 members of the U.S. House and Senate across the political spectrum, the U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced strict new rules to crack down on the barbaric practice of horse soring — the . . . 

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Former HSUS doc gives lifesaving advice in new doc about food, agriculture, and health

By on January 12, 2017 with 0 Comments
Former HSUS doc gives lifesaving advice in new doc about food, agriculture, and health

Dr. Michael Greger, former director of public health and animal agriculture at The HSUS and author of the runaway New York Times bestseller How Not to Die, is an extraordinary fount of knowledge about health and diet, and his work and science-based thinking are on full display in a compelling four-part series, “Prescription: Nutrition,” on . . . 

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Breaking news: A six-month reprieve for Yellowstone’s grizzlies

By on January 11, 2017 with 2 Comments
Breaking news: A six-month reprieve for Yellowstone’s grizzlies

The Obama Administration has passed a flaming-hot coal to the Trump Administration – pushing to the incoming leadership at the Interior Department the decision to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections from grizzly bears. Yesterday, news outlets reported that a Rocky Mountain region official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the agency . . . 

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200 more dogs saved from the butcher in South Korea

By on January 10, 2017 with 3 Comments
200 more dogs saved from the butcher in South Korea

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with a link to the HSI news release with a list of the shelters where the dogs are going. Our Humane Society International team has closed down yet another dog meat farm in South Korea, once again becoming the architect of a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of . . . 

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More gains in India, including on the trade in exotic animal skins and fur

By on January 9, 2017 with 1 Comment
More gains in India, including on the trade in exotic animal skins and fur

We’ve seen some extraordinary gains in the United States for animals in recent years, but India has more than kept pace, particularly since Humane Society International opened an office there five years ago. Working alongside local groups, our HSI team has just succeeded in persuading authorities to ban the import of the skins of exotic . . . 

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While China cracks down on ivory trade, U.S. House sets up attack on Obama-era rules

By on January 6, 2017 with 1 Comment
While China cracks down on ivory trade, U.S. House sets up attack on Obama-era rules

China announced last week a timetable to shutter the ivory market in the world’s most populous country and the biggest trading post for elephant tusks, which are carved into decorative trinkets, necklaces, bracelets, and other household items and jewelry. The year-long phase-out, expected to be completed by the end of 2017, was a follow-up on . . . 

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An open letter – looking back, and charging ahead in 2017

By on January 5, 2017 with 7 Comments
An open letter – looking back, and charging ahead in 2017

Dear Friends: Let’s start the New Year with thanks. Thanks to all of us. Whatever you did as part of the movement to help animals in the year just past, be proud. It was a challenging year. And so many, many people did so much, providing so much support and encouragement. For some, the compassionate . . . 

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Breaking news: Smithfield will complete transition to group housing for sows by end of 2017

By on January 4, 2017 with 7 Comments
Breaking news: Smithfield will complete transition to group housing for sows by end of 2017

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, has made more progress away from cruel gestation crates. The company announced today that it has converted 87 percent of its sow housing to group housing systems, and will be at 100 percent by the end of 2017. A decade and a half ago, there wasn’t a single . . . 

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Rolling Stone crushes puppy mill trade

By on January 3, 2017 with 34 Comments
<em>Rolling Stone </em>crushes puppy mill trade

Of the entire dizzying array of animal cruelty concerns, there’s not one more top of mind for the American public than puppy mills. It’s a term we’ve all been hearing for decades and we’ve lamented the presence of the industry for at least as long. Yet, amazingly, there’s still so much confusion about puppy mills, . . . 

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