Ringling’s Last Elephant Show on Earth

By on April 29, 2016 with 22 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

On Sunday, the elephants of Ringling Bros. will perform for the last time at shows in Providence, R.I. and Wilkes Barre, Penn., signaling a turning point in the history of our society’s tolerance of wild animal acts.

When Ringling announced its decision last year to end its traveling elephant acts, I called it a “Berlin Wall moment.” Ringling had long fought changes in its business model, and its decision to reverse course signaled that even one of the most hardened, stubborn animal-use companies recognized the world is changing and saw that it needed to adapt. In just the year since, we have seen a tidal wave of animal welfare announcements from major brands that relied or rely on animal use, including dozens of announcements by food industry players to phase out battery cages and gestation crates from their supply chains. Last month, SeaWorld announced the end of its orca breeding program, and Ringling declared it would retire the elephants almost two years ahead of schedule.

Elephants – and other wild animals – do not belong in circuses. They lead lives of quiet desperation, languishing in confinement and denied the stimulation and social relationships they’d experience in the wild. Training typically  involves heavy doses of punishment, with animals shackled or kept in cages, and forced to endure months of grueling travel, all so they can perform silly tricks in city after city, night after night. Elephants live in fear of the bullhooks wielded by animal trainers – part of the back story that makes the use of elephants in circuses so objectionable.

With Ringling closing out its involvement with this kind of enterprise, there are new political opportunities to change state and local laws to ban bullhooks and the use of wild animal acts, and to ensure that these outdated spectacles are a thing of the past. So far, more than 50 U.S. municipalities have passed legislation that prohibits the use of bullhooks on elephants and/or the use of wild animals in public displays altogether (most recently, bans have been put in place in Austin, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Missoula, Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, and Spokane). Two bills now pending before the Rhode Island Legislature would phase out the use of bullhooks on elephants. Many other states are considering similar measures, including California, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Other circuses see the writing on the wall. The Melha Shrine  in Springfield, Mass., announced that this year’s circus will not feature any animals and instead will focus only on thrilling human performances. And the Wawa Shrine in Saskatchewan, Canada, has eliminated exotic animal acts from its show, with the provincial circus event chairman stating, “Our moral compass doesn’t point us in that direction anymore.” Garden Bros. Circus announced that 2016 is the final year that it will tour with elephants. However, there are still over a dozen circuses that continue to use elephants in their shows, so there’s more work to be done there, and there remain ongoing concerns about the facility that will house Ringling’s elephants. We hope that Ringling will do the right thing and retire these majestic animals to a sanctuary.

But for now, with the change in policy, and so many other indicators of change in the use of animals in live entertainment, let’s celebrate that we are starting a new era – one that should lead ultimately to an end of these bizarre wild animal acts.

P.S. The fight for wild elephants is also more important than ever. In a strong warning to elephant poachers, Kenya will this Saturday conduct the largest ivory burn to date, sending 105 tons of ivory up in flames. Many heads of state and international dignitaries, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom, will be present. Poachers kill an elephant every 15 minutes for black-market ivory, sometimes even sawing off the tusks while the animal is still alive. One of the many benefits that will come with the end of elephant performances at the circus is that we can devote more energy and resources to protecting elephants in the wild.

Humane Society International, Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Nichole Marie Gutierrez says:

    This is still unacceptable. They are still being touch with the bull hooks even at this “sanctuary”. Ringling still has animals and if they abuse an elephant what makes you think they don’t do this to any other animals they have “working” for them!?

    • Maria Roberts says:

      Regarding the post of April 29, 2016 that elephants will still be mistreated with “bull hooks”. I wonder where the author got this information as the elephant sanctuaries I am familiar with (like the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee) truly let those poor animals live out their lives freely and being treated very well.
      It would be good to know which sanctuary allegedly practices such cruelty.
      Thank you.

  2. Peter Hood says:

    There is no reason to expect that Feld Entertainment, having subjected these animals to relentless and unconscionable torment solely to make money, will treat them respectfully once placed permanently in their “conservation center” in Florida… once they aren’t actively making money off of them.

  3. T wren says:

    All the picketing and boycotting in freezing rain and snow was not in vain for their victory! ” Never be silent “

  4. Gwen Stewart says:

    I am reading people’s comments to the end of Elephants being used for Circus performance at B & B….that the won’t be going to a Sanctuary? But used in research labs?? Is this true?

  5. David Bernazani says:

    Thanks for all the good news, Wayne. It was good to see you again last night at the Menlo Park book signing.
    I respectfully request you please make one tiny change to this blog : in the second to last sentence, can you change it to read “while THEY are still alive”? Thanks in advance. Now the go home and start reading your book!

  6. Kirsten M says:

    It was a less than two years ago I first read your blog and that same year was my first ringling protest. What an amazing era we are entering and hopefully leaving the last era far, far behind. You’re an inspiration and a true role model. This time next year I’ll be done with college and lobbying beside the rest of you attempting to insure this is indeed the new way of life for our animals friends. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  7. Kitty Mack says:

    This article is terrible and a gross misstatement of fact. Ringling does not mistreat their animals on a daily basis. It is ignorance such as yours that spawns even more ignorance and threatens the lives of the very elephants you think to “save.” The bullhook is used as a guide — not an instrument of torture — and has been used in places like India for centuries. “Denied the stimulation and social relationships they’d experience in the wild.” What wilderness did you have in mind for these magnificent animals? Their natural habitats are dwindling, daily. Aren’t you aware of the social relationships they have developed and continue to have while performing for Ringling and at their conservation center? I have seen the care and nurturing they receive on a first-hand basis, and am disgusted with how you seek to deliberately misrepresent this.

  8. Rap Attack says:

    Cant wait for all circuses to be gone plus zoos and factory farming of animals. Living in a humane world means being vegan. The way we started out

  9. Anne-Mari Gavin says:

    ALL animal use to make money for humans MUST be stopped. It is CRUEL. No animal will ever do this to a human being!!!! They belong to God and we MUST respect what God created. Show respect to the Creator of ALL.

  10. Diane Napoli says:

    We cannot or should not stop at “use in circuses”. What is happening to them in FL? Are they still breeding/training/selling them? A large percentage of the babies/young are dying in FL.

  11. Susan Kohn says:

    You keep forgetting that the Ringling elephants are going to a “sanctuary” where they will be used for experiments. Stop giving Ringling kudos for their stopping using them in circuses. They need to be sent to a true sanctuary, not the one in Florida. Do your research. Good grief.

  12. Ana Barros says:

    This is very good news but what is it gonna happen to them???? Will they be sent to freedom in their own habitat???? I sure hope so, thank God this cruelty is soon over. Thank you.

  13. Alice says:

    C’est tout de même incroyable de devoir signer toutes sortes de pétitions, alors que celà tombe sous le bon sens que LES ANIMAUX NE SONT PAS DES AMUSEURS DE PUBLIQUE. Allons Messieurs les politiques, intéressez-vous à la cause animale, qui pourait également vous rapporter un certain d’électeurs!!

  14. Gabriele Weiser says:

    schön das damit aufgehört wird, die Tiere haben es verdient in Freiheit zu sein

  15. Paula says:

    These elephants will be bred for use in cancer experiments. Elephants have tight family relationships — what will it do to these majestic beings if we take away their babies? And then we’re going to experiment on them?! What can be done to stop this? (I say this having two immediate family members who have battled cancer, and they will be the first to tell you that they are against animal testing like this.) Here is a link to the story — the part about cancer research is a passing reference and barely noted at all.

  16. Anna Hernandez says:


  17. TP says:

    Sounds like these retired elephants are going from bad to worse? Does it ever end? The sick, prevailing theme is money above life. The elephants will be used in a “Pediatric cancer research program”? So they will be made to have calves that will be ripped from them for the sake of big pharmecuticals. It is so heart wrenching that we fail to respect or value living creatures and in turn human life. Imagine what would happen if we did.

  18. KIKUE NISHIO says:


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