Breaking News: Retirement to Come Sooner for Ringling’s Beleaguered Elephants

By on January 11, 2016 with 28 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

In a second wave of good news from Ringling Bros., the circus company announced today that it would retire its elephants by May, truncating its time frame for ending its traveling acts involving the animals by almost two years. Last March, in a thunderbolt of an announcement, Ringling’s leaders abruptly announced they’d phase out their elephant acts over three years.

The news last year about the retirement of the elephants had direct consequences for a small number of animals, but like the elephants themselves, it had outsized importance because of the symbolic value of the enterprise. Ringling had been one of the biggest defenders of this kind of archaic animal exploitation, and the imminent end of its traveling elephant acts signaled that even one of the most tough-minded and hardened animal-use companies now recognized that the world is changing and it had to adapt.

For wild animals, life in a traveling show amounts to an existence filled with deprivation, long-term confinement, and unending misery. Their training involves heavy doses of punishment, they are kept in cages or chained in trailers and boxcars, and forced to endure months of grueling travel, all so they can perform silly tricks.

Performing elephants are typically struck with an implement called a bullhook – a hybrid between a baseball bat and a fire poker that handlers use to hurt elephants and instill fear in them, in order to control them. Last year, California lawmakers passed legislation to ban bullhooks, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, though not because of any sympathy for people using the implements to strike elephants.

Even SeaWorld is now making rumblings of reform, having said it would end its theatrical performances for its orcas at its San Diego facility.  The company still has a long way to go, though, and we’re anxiously awaiting more news from this other big-name brand in the business of live-animal entertainment.

It’s time to finally end the era of wild animal acts in circuses, and the accelerated timeline for Ringling’s retirement of its elephant acts is a hopeful sign.

Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Steps Forward says:

    This news makes me happy. This is the first step in the right direction. I hope the retired life for these elephants (and other animals) is a happy one compared to the life they have had up until now. Heres to hoping other animal acts follow this and retire their animal acts.

  2. Breeda O'Mahoney says:

    A victory for the elephants. Now it’s time to retire the remaining wildlife captives.

  3. rosemarie wnek says:

    this is animal abuse

  4. Denise wilson says:

    This is great news. I hope these elephants will not end up in a zoo. These poor abused intelligent and social animals need lots of space and the company of their long time circus elephant friends.

  5. Denise wilson says:

    Ps. Your site will not accept my email address for your news letters etc.

  6. Sherri Foster says:

    It is my understanding that Ringling Bros will not be sending their elephants to a sanctuary, but keeping them on their own private reserve. Ringling Bros also reportedly shared that the elephants would participate in cancer research. Thus, the elephants fate remain disturbingly unknown.

  7. Cynda Douglas says:

    I am thrilled. What about the other animals especially the big cats?

  8. Debra moser says:

    Great that the elephants will no longer be treated with such cruelty for the sake of ebtertainment. But so disapointed that the elephants will be tortured as guineas for cancer Drug Testing.. sooooo Freaking WRONG!!!!!!!!!

  9. katt13 says:

    I had heard on my local news about the elephants going to a “sanctuary” and be “involved” in cancer research. Out of one frying pan and into another?

  10. P Holland says:

    well so much for the circus
    I hope they are place in an AZA monitored facility
    and the are added to species survival program
    oh and by the way bleeding hearts without zoos many species would now be history

  11. Norma says:

    Thank you, Ringling Bros., this is a good start to a big problem. Which animals are going to be retired after the elephants? Perhaps you could retire them all at once! Again, thank you.

  12. Tutta Salonen says:

    Need to be stopped.

  13. Tutta Salonen says:


  14. Peter Hood says:

    This isn’t the “victory” that many are applauding. Ringling has plans for the unfortunate animals once they are “retired” (from the traveling part of the circus). It makes no sense to expect that Feld would “retire” animals (and treat them decently) when (theoretically) they wouldn’t be making money off of them.

    • BettyBennett says:

      I also wonder what lies ahead for these majestic animals. Will they fund to keep them happy and healthy?…

  15. Alane French says:

    It was sad to read in the Sacramento Bee today that they will be used in cancer research. It is not quite the retirement I thought they would get!

  16. Linda Wilson says:

    I read on The Dodo that they will be used for Cancer Research.
    They will be kept by the Ringling brothers in their own “sanctuary”
    so who knows what will happen to them behind closed doors it’s a sickening travesty if this is to happen to those who have suffered so much.

  17. Petrina Sullivan says:

    I’m so glad that Ringling Brothers has decided to move the date up and end the tourcher. What will happen to these beautiful animals?

  18. julie gergash says:

    I hope the Ringling Bros retired elephants are not moving into another torture session on their reserve. Lions and tigers do not belong there either. Animals should not be forced to ‘perform’ .

  19. Donna M. Baldwin says:

    Let Ringling Bros. know this is half assed! Retiring so you can experiment on them is NOT retirement! I live 90 minutes from your headquarters in Baraboo, I could certainly make my weekend summer job boycotting Ringling’s! Retire them in full – is your retirement going to include experimentation on your body? Didn’t think so!

  20. Kelly says:

    Sadly, they’re going to be used for cancer research instead of going to sanctuaries. So theyre moving from one nightmare to another. Just leave them in peace and let them free!

  21. Betty Bennett says:

    So exactly what is going to happen to these majestic creatures in retirement? Would like to see a written commitment of Ringling to guarantee a humane care and support of these animals for their life time.

  22. Mary Watkins says:

    So, I understand these beautiful animals will retire from a life of abuse to a life of abuse…Tragic!!!

  23. Sharon Hutchinson says:

    I told my now 23 year old son when he was about 5 that if he ever wanted to see the Circus it would be after he turned 18 and could control his own life. He asked me why and I told him. He has never been to a circus, sideshow traveling oddity caravan, a horse race or a dog race. I am proud of his decision.

  24. Leslie Abrahams Gosling says:

    From what I understand these elephants will now be used for breeding and CANCER RESEARCH! Ringling needs to retire their elephants to a true sanctuary………………

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