Travelling shows retire their huge attractions
ingling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus bid farewell to its performing elephants this week, as the show closed its own chapter on a practice that has entertained audiences in America for two centuries but has come under fire by animal rights activists.
“This is a very emotional time for us,” Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson told the crowd as the performance came to an end in Providence, Rhode Island, on Sunday.
He called the six Asian elephants beloved members of the circus family and thanked the animals for more than 100 years of service.
“We love our girls. Thank you so much for so many years of joy,” he said as the elephants left the ring for a final time.
“That’s history tonight there, ladies and gentlemen, true American icons.” Seth Rogen still feels like an outsider in Hollywood. Although he’s one of the most successful comedy actors in the business, Seth - who has also written movies including Superbad, Pineapple Express and The Interview - admitted he feels left out during awards season as comedies rarely receive nominations. He told Metro.co.uk: “Whenever awards season happens I sure feel like an outsider because no comedy ever gets nominated for any awards in any way, shape of form. “There’s a hierarchy in Hollywood and comedy’s at the bottom of it.” However, Seth was delighted this year when his good friend, Anchorman director Adam McKay won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Big Short, calling it a “step in the right direction”. He said: “That movie is actually really funny, but I for sure feel like an outsider in a lot of ways.”
Earlier, the crowd watched as the elephants performed an act that had them dancing, balancing on each others’ backs, sitting on their hind legs and pretending to sleep.
“We came to say farewell to the elephants,” said Sheila Oliver, of East Providence, who brought her four-year-old daughter, Lilliana. “This is her first circus and, unfortunately, it’s their last one.”
Five elephants also performed earlier on Sunday in a Ringling Bros show in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
The Providence show opened with the national anthem. An elephant carried a performer holding an American flag then stood at attention as the song ended. A few minutes later, six elephants entered the ring, each holding the tail of the one in front of her. After Sunday’s performance, the animals will live at Ringling’s 200-acre Centre for Elephant Conservation in Florida, said Alana Feld, executive vice president of Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus. Its herd of 40 Asian elephants, the largest in North America, will continue a breeding programme and be used in a paediatric cancer research project.
Elephants have been used in the circus in America for more than 200 years. In the early 1800s, Hackaliah Bailey added the elephant “Old Bet” to his circus. PT Barnum added the African elephant he named “Jumbo” to The Greatest Show on Earth in 1882.
The Humane Society says more than a dozen circuses in the United States continue to use elephants. But none tour as widely or are as well-known as Ringling Bros.
It’s also getting more difficult for circuses to tour with elephants. Dozens of cities have banned the use of bullhooks - used to train elephants - and some states are considering such laws.
Just as in the Disney movie Dumbo, elephants in the past have been dressed up as people and trained to do a range of tricks: play baseball, ride bicycles, play musical instruments, wear wedding dresses or dress in mourning clothes, said Ronald B Tobias, author of the 2013 book Behemoth: The History of the Elephant in America.
The change at Ringling signifies a shift in Americans’ understanding of elephants, Tobias said. People no longer see elephants as circus performers, he said, “but sentient animals that are capable of a full range of human emotions”.
Attitudes are shifting about other animals as well. Last month, Sea World announced it would end live orca shows and breeding. Ringling will continue to use animals, Feld said, such as lions, tigers, dogs and pigs.
Before Sunday’s show, about half a dozen protesters stood outside, including one wearing a lion costume, to protest the use of animals.
STARS: Elephants perform for the last time at Ringling Bros circus in the United States