The demise of Rin­gling Bros. is a vic­tory for the an­i­mal rights

“Great­est show on earth” comes to an end

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - CHRIS DEROSE

On Sun­day, Rin­gling Bros. and Bar­num & Bai­ley Cir­cus held its fi­nal “great­est show on earth,” at the Nas­sau Coli­seum on Long Is­land.

For the last time, Rin­gling’s li­ons, tigers, camels and other cap­tive an­i­mals will en­ter the ring and be forced to per­form de­mean­ing and un­nat­u­ral tricks. It’s a mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion that took the an­i­mal rights move­ment more than three decades to achieve.

I per­son­ally led some of the ear­li­est ral­lies out­side Rin­gling Bros. shows, back in the late 1980s. As the out­cry from ac­tivists and ad­vo­cacy groups grew, Rin­gling wil­fully ig­nored it. In­stead of switch­ing ex­clu­sively to hu­man per­form­ers — who per­form by choice rather than force — the 146-year-old in­sti­tu­tion con­tin­ued to bully an­i­mals. This was its down­fall.

The rea­son is sim­ple: When it comes to an­i­mal rights, the tide of pub­lic opin­ion has turned. A 2015 Gallup poll found that a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans — 62 per cent — be­lieve that an­i­mals de­serve pro­tec­tion, and 32 per cent be­lieve an­i­mals should have the same rights as peo­ple. In re­cent years, many busi­nesses have been forced to change their prac­tices.

SeaWorld an­nounced it would end its orca breed­ing pro­gram last March, and the State of Cal­i­for­nia out­lawed such pro­grams a few months later. Sev­eral years ago, the Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to ban the use of bull­hooks on ele­phants, and the city of West Hol­ly­wood banned the sale of fur prod­ucts. Many pet stores have stopped sell­ing dogs from puppy mills.

But while the end of Rin­gling is a vic­tory for ev­ery ac­tivist who wrote a let­ter, signed a pe­ti­tion or protested out­side the cir­cus doors, the fight to free an­i­mals from cru­elty, in­clud­ing in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, is far from over. Other cir­cuses con­tinue to ex­ploit an­i­mals for profit, as do zoos, aquar­i­ums and rodeos.

For in­stance, in 2002, an in­ves­ti­ga­tor for my or­ga­ni­za­tion, Last Chance for An­i­mals, cap­tured footage of ele­phant train­ing at the Car­son & Barnes Cir­cus in Ok­la­homa. The video showed vi­o­lent train­ing meth­ods in which ele­phants were abused with bull­hooks, elec­tric prods and blow­torches. At one point, a trainer yelled, “Make ’em scream!” The footage shook the cir­cus in­dus­try to its core. Yet the Car­son & Barnes Cir­cus still fea­tures an­i­mal per­form­ers.

The sim­ple truth is that an­i­mals should not be used for hu­man amuse­ment. The process of­ten is un­nat­u­ral and cruel from start to fin­ish. Many are taken from the wild as ba­bies and watch as their par­ents are slaugh­tered. Oth­ers are born in breed­ing fa­cil­i­ties and never know free­dom.

Life for th­ese an­i­mals is one of iso­la­tion, bore­dom and trauma — this is why they so of­ten ex­hibit ab­nor­mal be­hav­iours, such as pulling out their own fur, in­ces­sant sway­ing and bar bit­ing.

As we have seen with the demise of Rin­gling, the power of sus­tained ac­tivism is strong, but leg­is­la­tion could help has­ten and strengthen this hard-won progress.

In March, fed­eral leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced into the House to ban the use of wild and ex­otic an­i­mals in trav­el­ling cir­cuses and ex­hi­bi­tions, the Trav­el­ling Ex­otic An­i­mal and Pub­lic Safety Pro­tec­tion Act. We urge Congress to pass it. In April, the Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to draft a ban on the use of an­i­mals for cir­cuses and other live shows, in­clud­ing pri­vate par­ties. We urge the coun­cil to write a fi­nal ver­sion of the bill and en­act it.

It took more than three decades for the an­i­mal rights move­ment to put an end to the cru­elty Rin­gling Bros. and Bar­num & Bai­ley Cir­cus in­flicted on an­i­mals.

It shouldn’t take an­other three decades to elim­i­nate sim­i­lar an­i­mal mis­treat­ment else­where. Chris DeRose is pres­i­dent and founder of Last Chance for An­i­mals (@LC4A), an in­ter­na­tional non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to elim­i­nat­ing an­i­mal ex­ploita­tion.

The fight to free an­i­mals from cru­elty, in­clud­ing in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, is far from over.

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