A Berlin Wall Moment for Animal Protection

By on March 5, 2015 with 81 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

It’s surely one of the biggest announcements of the modern era in animal protection: Ringling Bros. has announced that it will cease its use of elephants in its traveling circus.

I’ve been a witness to and participant in big moments during my three decades of work in animal protection: banning cockfighting in Louisiana to make it the 50th state to end the practice; declaring victory on California’s Prop 2 to end extreme confinement of farm animals as the votes streamed in; getting word from McDonald’s that it would stop buying gestation crate pork. And this is right up there with them.

While the number of animals affected here is fewer than in these victories, or countless others that we’ve helped to drive, the result here may be as impactful, or even more so. This was a company that fought animal welfare groups at every turn – before city councils, in state legislatures, within Congress, in the courts, and in the press. The company infiltrated several nonprofit organizations by placing spies in them.  Its leadership seemed to have limitless resources, and a fierce resolve to keep the elephants so deeply associated with its brand.

And now, just like that, the company announces it will cease, by 2018, its use of elephants in circuses. Get the confetti and streamers. Grab the kids and the dog. Put on the party hat. Head over to the parade. Jump on what remains of the fallen wall and raise your arms.

Ringling Bros. cited the number of cities and counties that have recently adopted ordinances to restrict the use of elephants in circuses as contributing to its decision. And there’s no question that the documentary Blackfish, and the enormous public response to the treatment of orcas at SeaWorld was also a contributing factor. But the outcome was ordained by factors larger than any one thing.

Movements rise and fall based on their success in winning the hearts and minds of regular people.  With South Dakota making cruelty a felony last year, making it the 50th state to do so, Americans across the board have now accepted the notion that cruelty is wrong. With ethologists and other scientists demonstrating, in indisputable ways, that animals have complex social and behavioral needs, we are no longer in denial about the lives and minds of elephants and other animals. And with the world shrinking, in terms of communications and so much information available to us, any business built on the backs of exploiting animals cannot long endure.

Smart businesses purge their companies of cruelty and substitute something different, and they move on. The best of them thrive because they can then tap into the love and appreciation that so many millions of Americans have for animals.

The HSUS has been a bitter opponent of Ringling Bros. for many a year. We’ve never liked, nor accepted, what they do to animals in their care. But kudos to their leaders for recognizing that as the world changes, they can embrace that new world, instead of fighting it forever. Good for them for embracing it, even if it’s later than we’d wished, and we urge them to retire their use of all wild animals in their traveling act. But today, they have taken a big, hearty, important step toward joining the humane economy, and we celebrate it.


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  1. Peter Hens says:

    Bravo HSUS and others who have, for decades now, been pounding the pavement with relentless dedication to animal welfare. This is a watershed moment in animal welfare. Thank you for your efforts.

    • Judy Coene says:

      Thank goodness. I have boycotted circuses for 40 years. I have a wait and see attitude. Maybe I can go to one again, if the Lions and Tigers are not forced into tricks.
      Good work HSUS all the way

    • Brian O'Neill says:

      Why is it not happening in 2015? 2018 is a long way off. Lots of suffering for elephant still to endure. This is good?

      • Hettie Rowley says:

        My thoughts exactly. If it’s going to be done what’s wrong with immediately!
        A lot can happen in three years. Like a change of mind!

      • Insaney says:

        I imagine it will take a few years to find homes in sanctuaries across the country for the many elephants that they now have. There is A LOT of government red tape involved.. Be thankful they finally saw the light. Maybe a couple will go the WILD Animal Sanctuary east of Denver. An AWESOME place, known as the best in the country!

  2. Christina Nevshehir says:

    Everyone, keep on your local decision makers until 2018 never to allow this horrific tragedy in your town. Attach this joyful elephant trumping news to your message as well. Thanks!

    • Johanna says:

      Agreed Christina! My town just banned the circus before they announced this and if ALL of our towns ban any acts, circuses etc of wild and exotic animals we can shut this down sooner than the three years. We CAN do this!!! It only took a committee of 30 people to get the mayor and city council of our town to create this ban. Spread the word-please!!!

  3. Susan Trout says:

    I feel an elation unmatched by any animal victory in all my years as an animal rights’ advocate! I was employed with a major animal advocacy organization which was part of a federal lawsuit brought against Ringling Brothers. When we finaly got word of the judge’s verdict, mind you–the day before New Year’s Day!–, I was crushed. In a few words, he claimed that the organizations involved in the law suite had NO standing to bring the charges. The atmosphere in our office was instantly enveloped in sadness and defeat. We all wondered if we’d ever be successful in ending the exploitation of elephants. Low and behold, because caring, conscience-driven citizens began voicing their opposition through support of local government initiatives, we saw the glimmer of light again. I pray that eventually and sooner, than later, they will also end the use of big cats. Anyone with a functioning brain and conscience knows that lions and tigers and bears do not do the ridiculous stunts befored in the ring willingly. Why force naturally “wild” creatures into such a miserable and cruel life? It is unacceptable! Thank you, Feld Entertainment, for finally engaging your consciences. Your attendance just might spike after 2018!

    • Erika Seshadri says:

      Great comment Susan. What amazing, wonderful, life-changing news we are hearing today. I know this has been a long, frustrating fight for all of those involved, but look at this…. Beautiful. That’s why we never give up, right? Holy cow, I’m excited. 2018 can’t come soon enough for these sweethearts.

      • diana miller says:

        This all breaks my heart.I can do nothing as I’m in I’ll health & have no funds.Im so happy that we kept my mother in laws last wish to leave all to the spca.Thank God there are good people like you .

    • Brian O'Neill says:

      2018 is a long time to be chained and trained around the country. I don’t share your unfettered elation.

    • Peter Hood says:

      Sadly, I note your observation that “Anyone with a functioning brain and conscience knows that lions and tigers and bears do not do the ridiculous stunts befored in the ring willingly.”

      As we stand there with our placards outside the doors of the arena, even with photos of abuse of animals, patrons push by, many angrily denouncing us in “colorful” terms, for “ruining” the “fun” for their kids. Many will remark that they are plainly happy for animals to be abused, if it provides entertainment for themselves.

      That is just the world that we live in.

  4. susan clark says:

    It’s about time.

    • Brian O'Neill says:

      About three years too late! Why not right now?

      • Mary Freeborn says:

        Why not banALL CIRCUS ANIMALS right now, why just elephants, and in 3 MPRE YEARS THAT IS STILL MORE TORTURE THEU GO THROUGH AND THE SAME WITH OTHER ANIMALS,LIONS TIGHERS BEARS CHIMPS, DOGS,ETC,. If ur Goin do something about this do it now’!!

  5. Monika Courtney says:

    Now let’s focus on the plight of wild horses and burros. The agency in charge seems to have limitless tactics and a fierce resolve to keep scape goating and removing wild horses based on bogus science. Movements rise and fall based on their success in winning the hearts and minds of regular people. Let HSUS educate the American public what is really done to wild horses, by showing the public the graphic footage that truly displays the cruelty they suffer. With ecologists and scientists demonstrating in indisputable ways, that these horses have complex social and behavioral needs, we can no longer be in denial about the lives, minds and needs of wild horses and burros held captive in barren, unnatural pens, deprived of shelter from extreme elements when they indeed seek escape thereof in the wild. And with the world shrinking, in terms of communications and information available to us, any business built on the backs of exploiting, sales to middle men and falsifying facts on wild horses must not endure! Substitute something different, a real humane management on the range, without disrupting social orders and monopolizing their habitats for self-serving interests. See to the creation of an eco-sanctuary which could thrive as it could tap into the love and appreciation that so many millions of Americans have for wild horses, while simultaneously creating an innovative education opportunity for future generations. When a group of people make the conscious choice to band together, wrongs can be righted. I call on HSUS to rise to the occasion so these horses can thrive, in their natural environment, on our Western public lands – not languish broken spirited in boredom in shelter less prisons resembling feedlots. To push for a solution that reflects humanity and respect for the wild horses, ensuring their freedom, not subject them to a life of misery in an unnatural setting, to selflessly aim to make the current situation a part of foul-smelling history of American culture. HSUS can with the help of the membership and public, DEMAND change as they so tenaciously express in any other animal campaign.
    Kudos to leaders who recognize that as the world changes, they can embrace that new world, instead of curtail the real suffering and propaganda that goes on. Good for them for embracing it rather sooner than later and I urge them to pioneer true humane protection for all wild horses and burros in the wild, where they belong.

    • dagmar karin dag says:

      Cuando el animal humano respeta a los otros animales,se convierte en el ser humano evolucionado que pretende ser,todo el que cuida a los animales y los protege,llego a un grado superior de la evolucion,todos los que cooperaron en esta manifestacion,merecen ser el ejemplo a seguir

  6. Catalina says:

    This is a great victory for us all. If we educate ourselves and refuse to be part of animal cruelty, we will see incredible results. Let’s continue to say no to any economic venture riding on the cruel use of animals. Thank you HSUS!

  7. Paula Denmon says:

    I am so happy about this announcement. Thank you HSUS and all the other groups and individuals who helped elephants. Now we must keep the pressure on the others that use Elephants in exhibition. And particularly help those organizations who are making IVORY SALES ILLEGAL. That will stop poaching when it no longer pays.

  8. DIANE GENEST says:


    • Kamelia tahari says:

      Yes all animal’s been created for a raison in this world. The way the Lord create us He created them to balance our eco system they should know better those animal’s heather. Thank u Humane Society.

  9. Andrea Michelena says:

    Thank you very much for your big efforts. This is a HUGE win, and it’s more than energizing to keep on fighting for what’s right!

  10. Linda says:

    Bravo to All and the NY Activists out in the coldest weather here for the last 2 weeks protesting RB’s ….may I ask where are these Elephants going? To a good sanctuary?

    • Sidney Burr says:

      I share your concern, Linda. That was my first thought when I heard the good news. I hope they are sent someplace like the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. If they are just cast away to a terrible place, this was an empty victory for those currently in the circus. I wish they had included that information in their announcement. Ensuring they get proper care will be expensive and they should pay for it happily after all these years of abusing elephants and making profits from their performances.

  11. LNorman says:

    2018 is not soon enough for the beaten elephant slaves in the Cruelest Show on Earth. I will still be protesting their enslavement when the circus comes to town.

  12. Annoula Wylderich says:

    Beautifully put. I applaud them for doing the right thing; better late than never, and I hope to see the day when NO animals are exploited for any purpose.

  13. Cheryl says:

    Please let these beautiful animals return to thier lives of nature . We don’t need to see them do things they r not ment to do

  14. Free Orcas Now says:

    A defining moment in the becoming of what will be a more humane society. Marine mammal anti-caps are very excited to see progress in ethical changes made that will surely catch on at “seaquariums” worldwide. Good on Ringling Bros. to learn from watching the “blackfishing” of SeaWorld and to be wise and willing!

  15. Barbara Griffith says:

    The only reason Ringling Brothers is throwing in the towel is because they are going bankrupt because the public has stopped paying to watch their shows and the cities and towns they used to appear in are showing them the door along with all of the money they were making. The same thing is happening at the parks where Orcas are kept in the swimming pools. They are going broke since they have been exposed for what they are. Why will the elephants have to suffer for another two or three years in the clutches of Ringling Brothers unless its because the sanctuaries will need time to gear up for the new arrivals.
    Another thing that needs to brought to a screeching halt is the shipping of US horses across borders to be killed for human consumption. Mexico was supposed to have stopped taking US horses by Feb 15, 2015 but from what I have found out they are still accepting them just not as many as before. Canada is still slaughtering them Vet drugs and all. The EU hasn’t said if they will stop US horses or not there was some talk about keeping the horses in feed lots for six months so the Vet drugs can leave their systems but most of the horses have been given Bute which does not leave the system at all which renders the horse meat adulterated and not fit for human consumption. I guess its a wait and see just what happens.

  16. Pj says:

    Thank you so much HSUS for your efforts on this campaign. Also a big shout out and thanks to wonderful Tom Rider (forever in our hearts ~ passed 2013) as well as investigative reporter in Vegas, George Knapp for their part in the action as well. Let’s all remember to also thank Ringling on their decision! What a fantastic day!!!

  17. Debbie Bounds says:

    I just heard the news but it makes me wonder what RB is up to…I don’t trust them

  18. K. says:

    Just huge, huge thanks to HSUS, Wayne Pacell and all those who keep fighting the good but very unpopular fight for animal rights. You are really, truly good people. You have the sensitivity that not everyone possesses. Many more victories to come, I am sure of it.

  19. Michael Stack says:

    Great job on PBS news hour tonight
    Mr Pacelle
    Thank you
    476 summit ave
    Saint Paul MN

  20. Judi Ludewig says:


    • Carol Hewitt says:

      Judi I Agree!….because what will happen to them in 2018 …will they be sent to a sanctuary to enjoy the kind of life they deserve….they need freedom now…not when the time comes only for RB to say
      they’re still working on it…another year or so…or they’ve changed their minds!

  21. Gerrit Osborne says:

    May be God of Animals bless The Humane Society of the United States and its courageous and energetic leader, Wayne Pacelle! I am very proud to be associated with such a wonderful (and that’s exactly the right word) organization, if only in a small way. What it takes is passion, and you certainly have that!

  22. nicole says:

    I’m wondering where they’re going to send the current elephants when they stop performing with them. A sanctuary, I hope.

  23. Jennie Berkeley (Windsor, ON) says:

    This is a major announcement, and signals the end of the traveling animal circuses across the continent. RB is the big boss in this torturous industry, and all the other small players will surely follow suit. As a long-time circus protestor in both Canada and the United States, today’s news brings celebratory joy, but, also reflection for animal entertainment’s countless victims. Why did we allow so much cruelty during the past century?? .. We can’t take past, but, we can create a legacy to help other captive wild animals and protect their habitats.
    Thank you HSUS, and all the other big animal organizations for your unrelenting efforts to reach victory.
    Yours sincerely, Jennie M. Berkeley, Windsor, ON, CANADA

  24. Kristina says:

    This is amazing news and a monumental decision!!! This could be the beginning of majestic animals not being used to do silly parlor tricks for human entertainment…I hope the tigers are next! Circus life sucks for them too!

  25. Maria Reis says:

    It sounds so good. I really hope that we can look after our animals with humanity, kindness, sweetness and respect. Thanks to all those whom made the things happen.

  26. Hyde says:

    Why does it take 2 years to finally get elephants out of one circus (Peta has a petition to shorten this phase out time)? What about tigers and others that are abused for ‘amusement’ or ‘educational’ purposes, but really just to make money? Literally tons of laboratory rats, lab mice, and birds are being used daily for human purposes–we should at least finally urge for a law to include these animals in the AWA. There is s much more to do but I know that sometimes mills grind slowly. Thanks for what you’ve achieved already, HSUS.

  27. Sjen says:

    finally humanity is (slowly) becoming human(e)

  28. ScottB says:

    Heard this late last night – great news. Nice work HSUS. Glad to be a supporter…

  29. SALLY SHUMSKY says:

    I feel elated every time we have a victory! One step closer. Then my heart breaks when I think about all the animals still yet to save and all the laws still yet to change and how much suffering will continue until we reach our goal. When I see these stories on the news with HSUS or PETA I am thrilled . The public needs to know the truth. The public needs to be shocked to get more people to take action. Each victory is so important! Bless you HSUS!

  30. eusebio manuel vestias pecurto says:

    Good Job The human society I´m proud of you

  31. Helen Driessen says:

    Wonderful news! Thank you in the name of elephants and all other animals for all you do for them!

  32. Sandra Schimelfening says:


  33. Nora says:

    Well, they move elephants to their own animal sanctuary in Florida as they say: “The Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation is already home to the largest herd of Asian elephants and the most successful breeding program for this endangered species in the Western Hemisphere. The circus will continue to feature other extraordinary animal performers, including tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels.”. Do we know what are their breeding standards are? What about tigers and lions? Can they wait? Dogs, horses and camels are domesticated animals and not so huge as elephants, its much easier to train them but still we have to know their living conditions. Its definitely a victory but somehow it doesnt feel right. Why in 3 yrs? How more elephants have to die?

  34. Katherine says:

    Soon they will be forced to have people (gasp!) entertain people.
    I am so appreciative of every single activist I know that contributed to this. It’s been a long hard road and worth every rainy, freezing cold and hot day. Yes, worth every bit of it. Our gentle friends will not have to suffer at the hands of disconnected humans every again. We will be by their side ALWAYS. Always watching, always protecting them and being their voice. It has been my honor to serve my fellow Earthlings.

  35. LINDA BADHAM says:


  36. CV says:

    I offer my congrats to the chorus of others for the efforts of the HSUS and other animal welfare/rights activists who have helped bring about these recent victories!

  37. Diane G says:

    “Smart businesses purge their companies of cruelty and substitute something different, and they move on. The best of them thrive because they can then tap into the love and appreciation that so many millions of Americans have for animals.”

    Great news! The public of history is not without culpability in this though. How about all the creative minds make suggestions for “something different”? There’s no reason our children (and theirs) can’t enjoy the wonders of a traveling circus sans the live performing animals. Something equally entertaining, educational, exciting and mysterious. I’ve never had the opportunity to go to one because I grew up on an island in Alaska but I think I would have loved to watch the acrobats and magicians and such; clowns? Not so much. Oh, the wonders of a childs mind. Maybe if they are supplied with alternatives the process will occur more quickly and include all of the animals. This is a HUGE step in the right direction. Thank you HSUS.

  38. DIANNA LONG says:

    I am already planing my party to celebrate this wonderful accomplishment and upcoming freedom for elephants! Hurrah! For those in Chicago who want an invitation, please let me know! sincerely, Dianna C. Long

  39. Susan says:

    This was news that quite literally made my heart sing. It is however going to be a long 3 years. Now what about the other smaller circuses. What I would really like to see would be animal free circuses. Acrobats, clowns, jugglers, etc, get to make a choice to perform animals do not. I haven’t been to a circus or water park in 25 years and won’t so long as there are animals being forced to perform or being kept in inappropriate conditions (which includes many zoos).

  40. Connie Brady says:

    “Hallelujah” It’s been a long overdue.

  41. Dorothy M Neddermeyer says:

    Why 3 years to phase them out? It would take only a matter of weeks. In the meantime, BOYCOTT the circus until the elephants are in a safe environment. Boycotts work Money Talks!!! AND protest the use of other animals for entertainment. All animals are sentient beings.

  42. dia tsung says:

    I love all you wonderful people and your beautiful comments. The world is a better place for having folks like you.

  43. Michelle P. says:

    I’m cautiously optimistic. Their ‘Conservation Center’ seems like it could be turned into a type of zoo or breeding center in the future according to Feld’s comments in the article. While this appears to be a game changer, I think it’s a marketing ploy. This issue is far from resolved.

  44. Ellen says:

    Perhaps they didn’t make as widespread a splash as Blackfish, but if we’re going to mention documentaries in the equation of factors influencing Ringling Bros., An Apology to Elephants (2013) or One Lucky Elephant (2010) would seem at least as relevant as Blackfish.

  45. ldrboyle says:

    Encouraged to hear this wonderful news! Just hope these elephants can be released before 2018. Bless all for the work you do, HSUS.

  46. Lynda Fainter says:

    My father had a stroke and my sister and I moved him to a nursing home, so he could receive rehabilitation. He eventually went to reside in the Veterans home. My father’s doctor at the nursing home was a woman from India. In talking with her, she said that “Elephants are the most “gentle giants” in the world,” and she is so right! Putting elephants in chains is inhumane and cruel. My thanks to HSUS and the many advocates for bringing animal cruelty to the forefront of the public, as well as the news for reporting it.. We need better Federal and State laws with stiffer penalties and fines for abusers. This should include all wildlife, both ocean, land and air. I was once told by someone that “There Is No Social Justice Without Protest,” so we all need to keep going for a better world and that also means for animals!

  47. Peg Wilson says:

    So much has been accomplished, so much more to do. Let’s just keep it up and God Bless You All!

  48. Rashmi Varma says:

    Elephants and indeed all wildlife belong to the jungles, natural habitats where they must be relocated and trained to survive if they have been captive.
    Only then can wildlife regain its beauty.

  49. Muriel Reilly says:

    Sadly, the reasons behind this great move are not altruistic. Some sources cite a tuberculosis outbreak for the incentive behind this, and also that camels may be replacing the elephants in their acts.

  50. Barbara Grant says:

    I was elated to hear the good news, but like everyone else, don’t see why we have to wait three years before this takes place. Let’s hope PETA will be successful in their petition to shorten this time. RB needs to be monitored during this time. Kudos to HSUS! Just shows how persistence can be successful. Keep up the good work with all the other animals that need your help.

  51. karen haddon says:

    this is barbaric and cruel and needs to stop all animals performing in circuses animals are not ours to abuse and toture for our needs

  52. Elephants says:

    I am a clown who performed with Ringling years ago and will never forget my first week on the show seeing an elephant made to stretch out while the head trainer beat the animal so badly it roared in pain. I then saw similar treatment all the performing animals and later got involved in trying to stop it. After more than 20 years of protesting, it’s finally paying off ! I am very grateful to Feld entertainment for their decision to stop using elephants and plan to thank them if the show comes to my town this year. And when they go completely animal-free I will encourage people to attend their new shows! I love the circus and can’t wait to for it to happen!

  53. Elephants says:

    I agree that elephants with Ringling should be taken off the show immediately. I will have my picket sign and leaflets ready should there be a reason to use them again. I am planning to write to Feld entertainment and ask them to send their elephants to the sanctuary that they sent some of their other elephants to as opposed to their breeding farm. This way they won’t end up in other circuses or zoos. I believe that this is a sincere effort on their part, though, because I know their attendance has dropped dramatically in recent years.The circus-going public definitely does not condone animal cruelty and never has. Educating them in a respectful manner is what made them choose not to support animal-based entertainment on such a large scale. What a great day for elephants!

  54. Ida says:

    This is a very big deal, as was said – truly a Berlin Wall moment for animals. To Jumbo!

  55. Denni A says:

    the voice and consciousness of the people is finally beginning to penetrate the animal exploitation industry. more and more people are becoming aware of the plight of animals being used for entertainment and are expressing that displeasure and awareness with boycotts.

    my only question to Ringling Bros, why wait for 2018 , do it NOW!!!.

    this is just the beginning..next to go, SEAWORLD.

  56. fL says:

    Release them~

  57. KIKUE NISHIO says:


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