Got a press release in my e-mail box a couple of days ago from Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus announcing that they have moved up the retirement of all their elephants from 2018 to May of this year.
I am of two minds about this. One is this: I am above all about tradition, especially where the American circus is concerned. Circuses are about animals. The ring was especially designed for equestrianism. Back in the day, audiences got their first glimpses of exotic creatures in a circus. Most of my favorite circus memories involve animals. When I got to see the Moscow Circus at MSG about 20 years ago, I formed two lasting memories: horseback riding Cossacks…and bicycle riding bears. And look at the picture above — that’s been the signature finale of RBBB Circus for decade after decade — I first saw that trick at the Providence Civic Center in 1976. It means something to people. What got P.T. Barnum interested in show business when he was a kid? Old Bet the elephant came to town! What did Toby Tyler do when he joined the circus? Watered the elephants! A circus without animals is Cirque du Soleil, and I’m sorry — that’s no circus at all.
Add to this the fact that the animal rights people are wackos. Are you one? Sorry! Then they’re all wackos but you. When I worked at Big Apple Circus we used to get these letters, scrawled in crayon, with words underlined and seventeen exclamation points in a single sentence, accusing the organization of the worst, most slanderous and untrue calumnies. People dare to tar an entire, centuries-old field of human endeavor with a single brush, and to sling around the VERY loaded word “abuse”, applying it left and right to an entire industry without any familiarity to who or what they’re talking about. I just saw this headline on PETA’s web site: “Three Rings of Abuse”. Eat me. You’re full of elephant shit. Are there cruel animal trainers? Yes. But if you dare to call Big Apple’s loving and caring Woodcock family abusers of animals, you and I are going to have to step outside. Ima stomp you, and I’ll trumpet loudly while I do it.
Now, I first mouthed off on this subject after Big Apple retired their elephants. (Read that post here). But I’ve also done some other blogging about circus elephants. There’s Jumbo, killed by a train while at work. And there’s Topsy, electrocuted for the public’s enjoyment. And there’s that poor creature I saw at the National Zoo, pacing back and forth neurotically, non-stop, in a space about the size of a New York apartment (New York apartments are small). And you realize that, even if owners and trainers are kind and caring like the Woodcocks, and never hit or poke their animals…well these highly intelligent, very large animals need lots of space, and lots of elephant friends and relatives around in order to be happy. I don’t want them to be miserable for my happiness. I can’t enjoy that. If you put it to me like that…it’s all over, isn’t it? Seems to me a lot of the most heinous human behavior was perpetuated out of this idea of tradition and the “natural order of things”. Slavery, the subjection of women, the class system, etc etc. It’s really a lame justification. The lamest possible actually. So, yeah. The retirement of the pachyderms is a positive development.
The Ringling organization is sending their elephants to their big preserve in Florida, and the very idea of them having some space in which to roam makes me happy. If they would put bleachers all around the park and sell tickets so we could watch it would make me even happier.