Mother Jones has published a damning report on Ringling Brothers circus and its cruel and abusive treatment of its elephant “performers”:
Feld Entertainment [Ringling’s parent company] portrays its population of some 50 endangered Asian elephants as “pampered performers” who “are trained through positive reinforcement, a system of repetition and reward that encourages an animal to show off its innate athletic abilities.” But a yearlong Mother Jones investigation shows that Ringling elephants spend most of their long lives either in chains or on trains, under constant threat of the bullhook, or ankus—the menacing tool used to control elephants. They are lame from balancing their 8,000-pound frames on tiny tubs and from being confined in cramped spaces, sometimes for days at a time. They are afflicted with tuberculosis and herpes, potentially deadly diseases rare in the wild and linked to captivity.
Just as pressures for greater efficiency and higher rates of profit lead to the deplorable conditions of factory farming, the economic logic of the circus is virtually bound to lead to this kind of treatment. This is because the elephants are not “willing performers” but economic commodities. The solution to this, ultimately, isn’t tighter regulation or better enforcement (welcome as that would be), but rejecting the ntotion that these sentient, intelligent, social creatures should be used for human entertainment.