Tag Elephants


The world’s first circus elephant

As a symbol of the circus, elephants are right up there with clowns and the flying trapeze. But recently the Ringling and Barnum and Baliey’s Circus announced that it would phase out it’s elephant performers by 2018, allowing them to be retired to an elephant park the circus set up in 1996.


Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, still keeps 43 elephants, 13 of which are performing. But years of pressure from activists alleging abuse have caused a “mood shift” among consumers, circus executive Alana Feld told The Associated Press, and the Feld family would rather spend money on elephant care than lawyers. The Felds say they’ll phase out elephant acts by 2018 as the remaining performers retire to their 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. (from AP News)

America’s first circus elephant was captured in East Africa as a calf and and shipped around Europe’s zoos for years. Jumbo the elephant grew up fast. By the time he was displayed in London he was larger than any known African elephant, measuring eleven feet tall at the shoulder. Certainly the largest Elephant on display in the world.

Most zoos and menageries at the time preferred the smaller Asian elephant. African elephants had a reputation for being dangerously wild and out of control. Apart from his size the other thing that set Jumbo apart was his calm and docile behavior around spectators, including children. But as he aged he began to show signs of a dangerous temperament. Afraid that their main attraction would wind up hurting someone, the London zoo sold Jumbo to PT Barnum for ten thousand dollars in 1881. (That’s about two hundred thirty thousand in today’s dollars.)

Elephants never forget

Everyone has to have a favorite animal when they are a child. African elephants were my favorite for a long time. I think the first image of an elephant I ever saw was a large poster of Jumbo that hung on a basement wall at the Grandstreet theater. It was there for years hanging next to the telephone and across from the pop machine. I was fascinated by the little hairs on his head, his cold eye, and all those kids on his back. Was it even possible that he was so big? “No,” my father told me, “he was big but he wasn’t that big.”


There is something magical but so dark about the image. The brutality of his truncated tusks and those chains. I remember going to the circus when I was a kid and getting to ride the elephant there with PJ and Ed. I remember her dusty dry skin, curious snotty trunk covered in thick bristles and the chains around her feet. That was the first time I saw the horrible spike/hook on a stick that the trainers use to get the elephants to go where they want. It horrified me. Such a beautiful animal, moving with a melancholy grace getting jabbed and prodded by some jerk with a stick. It wasn’t fair!

I loved the circus but I couldn’t stand seeing the abuse. So eventually I refused to go to any circus with animal shows and I avoided them all together until a few years ago I persuaded my family to go see a Mexican circus when we were vacationing in Belize. I could have missed that one too. Nothing had changed. Still just as inhumane as I’d remembered. But still, that stick. I’m happy that they are letting the elephants finally rest. It’s about time.