The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced it will phase out elephant acts from its show over the next three years. Public concerns over cruel treatment of performing elephants led to the move.
Those concerns prompted the Oakland City Council to ban the use of bullhooks late last year. Animal rights activists say that the use of the sharp, metal-pointed instrument to train and direct elephants is inhumane. Los Angeles passed a similar ban in May 2014.
"I'm thrilled, but not surprised," said Oakland Councilman Dan Kalb, who co-sponsored Oakland's ban. "We know that when local communities make decisions, it can have a national impact. The only surprise I've had is that it happened this quickly. I thought it would take a few more local laws for Ringling Brothers to finally do what they say they are going to do."
In December, when Oakland's bullhook ban was being discussed, Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros. Circus, threatened to end shows at the Oakland Coliseum if the ban took effect. The City Council ignored that threat and went through with the ban anyway.
Kalb said that under December's legislation, Feld Entertainment cannot pull its business for at least three years.
Animal rights activists who pushed for Oakland's ban are pleased that Ringling has taken steps to protect its elephants, but would like to see all animal acts eliminated from the circus.
"There's no way to get these animals to perform without intimidation, fear and violence," said Deniz Bolbol, a volunteer with the local grass-roots group Humanity Through Education. "Elephants are the animal people most relate to the circus, and I think once we see the elephants get out of the circus, we're going to see other animals as well."
Ringling Bros. has said that when elephants stop performing, they will be taken to live at the circus's Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. Bolbol said she'd prefer to see the elephants sent to an accredited sanctuary like the one run by PAWS in San Andreas (Calaveras County), a place where the elephants have the freedom to roam and act naturally.
"What Ringling has is a breeding center where they train the elephants," Bolbol said. "In fact, the majority of the very violent training took place at their breeding facility in Polk County, Florida."
Bolbol said Ringling Bros. employees took photos of brutal training tactics, including chaining pregnant elephants and prodding them while they gave birth.
"That is an inappropriate place for the elephants to stay," Bolbol said. "We really hope Ringling works collaboratively with accredited sanctuaries to get these elephants to sanctuaries where they will have access to hundreds of acres of land."
The Ringling Bros. Circus has had elephants in its shows for over a century.