Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced Thursday that they’re phasing out elephants from their shows, citing a “mood shift” among customers who "aren’t comfortable" with the use of the animals on tour. Various animal-rights groups have objected to the creatures' care and Mother Jones has highlighted the harsh treatment of the elephants, including the use of long, steel-tipped prods called "bullhooks" to control the creatures. The circus says the 13 elephants currently on tour will stop performing and move to its conservation center in Florida by 2018.
For more context on the announcement, I spoke to Dr. Susan Nance, an associate professor of U.S. history at the University of Guelph in Ontario and the author of Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and the Business of the American Circus.
Noah Gordon: Were you surprised by the news?
Susan Nance: Well, yes, a little bit. Not because the mood shift doesn’t exist, but because Feld Entertainment [the circus's parent company] has been really stubborn. The fact that they still had a herd of elephants was one of the things that made the Ringling Brothers circus unique—in business and in the entertainment world. They had invested so much money in the traditional American-style circus, that I just thought as long they put bums in seats, as long as people keep paying, they would ignore the critics. Why should they have to answer to people who would never come to their show?