The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its elephant acts a year and a half early, and will retire all of its touring elephants in May.
The move comes amid increasing scrutiny of circus elephant acts with local governments passing “anti-circus” and “anti-elephant” ordinances in response to concerns over animal cruelty.
The circus’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, told The Associated Press exclusively that all of the iconic elephants will be permanently retired to the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation, located between Orlando and Tampa.
The company announced in March that it would retire the full herd to the center by 2018. But once officials began planning details, they realized “we could actually do this a lot sooner” because building the new structures to house the retiring elephants didn’t take as long as they originally thought, said Alana Feld, Ringling’s executive vice president and show producer. It costs about $65,000 yearly to care for each elephant, Feld said.
Eleven elephants currently tour with the circus.
“They’ll be joining the rest of the herd,” Feld said. She’s part of the family that owns Feld Entertainment, which owns the largest herd of Asian elephants in North America. In addition to the elephants still touring, 29 of the animals are on the property now, and two are on breeding loans to zoos, Feld said.
Animal rights groups on Monday applauded Ringling’s new timeline and announcement.
“Like the elephants themselves, it had outsized importance because of the symbolic value of the enterprise,” wrote Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Ringling had been one of the biggest defenders of this kind of archaic animal exploitation, and the imminent end of its traveling elephant acts signaled that even one of the most tough-minded and hardened animal-use companies now recognized that the world is changing and it had to adapt.”
Elephant acts have been showcased by Ringling for more than a century and have often been featured on its posters.
But because so many cities and counties have passed “anti-circus” and “anti-elephant” ordinances, it became difficult to organize tours of three traveling circuses to 115 cities each year, Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld said last year. Fighting legislation in each jurisdiction is expensive, he said.
Los Angeles and Oakland prohibited the use of bull-hooks by elephant trainers and handlers last April. The city of Asheville, North Carolina, also nixed wild or exotic animals from performing in the municipally owned, 7,600-seat U.S. Cellular Center.
Ringling’s new show will begin in July without the giant pachyderms.
“We’re looking at a lot of new ways of doing things,” Feld said.
She said the retired elephants at the CEC will also be part of cancer research.
Cancer is much less common in elephants than in humans, even though the big animals’ bodies have many more cells. That’s a paradox known among scientists, and now researchers think they may have an explanation — one they say might someday lead to new ways to protect people from cancer.
Compared with just one copy in humans, elephants’ cells contain 20 copies of a major cancer-suppressing gene, two teams of scientists reported in October. The gene helps damaged cells repair themselves or self-destruct when exposed to cancer-causing substances.
The findings aren’t proof that those extra p53 genes make elephants cancer-resistant, but if future research confirms it, scientists could try to develop drugs for humans that would mimic the effect.
Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric cancer specialist at the University of Utah, is one of the researchers trying to find clues in the blood samples of some of the Ringling elephants.
“There’s so much to be learned from their DNA,” Feld said.
Animal rights activists have long alleged that circuses have mistreated elephants.
In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from a number of animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year legal battle over allegations that Ringling circus employees mistreated elephants.
On Monday, Ingrid Newkirk, the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called on Ringling to end all animal acts and that “vigilance will be needed to determine how they are treated” at the Florida sanctuary.
Elephants have been a symbol of the Ringling circus for decades. P.T. Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.
After just two days, Florida has ended its controversial black bear hunt because a higher than expected number of bears had been killed.
Wildlife authorities said late Sunday that 295 bears were slaughtered overall, nearing the official limit of 320. Officials said they did not want to risk going over that quota by allowing another day of hunting.
The first such hunt Florida has seen in 21 years drew heavy criticism from animal rights activists. At a June press conference, members of the Sierra Club, Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity and the League of Women Voters called upon Gov. Rick Scott to intervene and stop the hunt, deriding it as a “trophy hunt.”
But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the bears have become a nuisance and threatened safety. Laura Bevan, southern regional director of the Humane Society of the United States disagreed.
“We are talking about sending trophy hunters into the woods to kill bears that are not creating the issue that the commission says it’s seeking to fix,” Bevan was quoted as saying. “There have been incidents in Florida between bears and people. Three of those were mother bears with their cubs which were disturbed while they were eating human garbage. The other one was a few doors down from where someone was feeding bears openly. So the problem is the bears that are in the garbage in our neighborhoods. It’s not the bears that are in the woods.”
Wildlife officials had already shut down hunting in designated central and east Panhandle regions of Florida after the first day Saturday. The statement late Sunday said additional North and South units were closed to hunting after the second day, meaning hunting had ended in all four “bear management units” were it was allowed.
The controversial hunt was approved by the FWC earlier this year after much debate. In the end, commission members said the black bear population had grown to 3,500 — up from a few hundred in the 1970s.blac
Bear permits were available from Aug. 3 to Oct. 23. During that period 3,778 were sold at a cost of $100 each.
The number of permits could well outnumber the bears in the state, which wildlife officials have estimated at more than 3,000.
Thirty minutes outside the Wisconsin Dells’ maze of flumes, rollercoasters, go-kart tracks and the duck boats plying the Wisconsin River, Jasmine is something of a minor local celebrity.
“I go to the pharmacy at ShopKo here in town and (people are) always, ‘Where’s Jasmine? Bring her in to see us!’” said her caretaker, Melanie Nawrot, 36, whose small capuchin monkey lives with her family in the city of Adams. “We go on the lake with her, a lot of 4-H clubs and Boy Scouts come and see her.”
Jasmine has been under the care of Nawrot since she was two days old after being rejected by her mother. Jasmine, who could live to be 45 years old, might outlive her, and Narwot said she has made provisions for the family’s pet in her will.
But Jasmine is also a wild animal. Owning a monkey, or almost any other nonnative animal species, is currently legal in Wisconsin. It is among five states — Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina are the others — that have no bans on owning “dangerous” exotic animals.
A bipartisan measure making its way through the state Legislature would change that. Senate Bill 241 would ban ownership, breeding and sale of “dangerous” exotic animals, including non-native big cats, non-native bears, apes and crocodilians. A companion measure, Assembly Bill 333, also has been introduced.
Exotic pets not affected by the proposal include venomous snakes and constrictors, monkeys (including baboons) and marsupials, such as kangaroos.
Current owners of banned pets, such as tigers, lions and chimpanzees, would be allowed to keep their animals under the bill. Veterinarians, accredited and municipal zoos, circuses, federally licensed research facilities and wildlife sanctuaries also would be exempt, as would Circus World Museum in Baraboo.
Owners who violate the law would be subject to a $1,000 fine. If a dangerous exotic pet caused property damage or attacked someone, the owner could face a $2,000 fine.
The ban would not affect Melanie Nawrot or Jasmine, nor would it prohibit Nawrot from keeping her other exotic pets — a ring-tailed lemur and a pair of marmosets, another type of monkey.
And, as far as Nawrot can tell, SB 241 also would not immediately threaten Monkey Mommy LLC, the business through which she breeds, sells and offers monkeys for hire at special events and educational programs. Nawrot holds a dealer’s license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Nonetheless, Nawrot opposes the legislation. She said local governments in Wisconsin can and sometimes do pass their own regulations, and that is good enough.
“I personally think we’ve been doing a really good job in Wisconsin with exotic animal owners,” she said, adding, “Why fix something that’s not broken?”
Bill, changes debated
SB 241, proposed by Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, was the subject of a hearing Oct. 1. The most passionate testimony centered on a not-yet-introduced amendment that some argued would weaken the bill.
The amendment would remove a provision that forbids members of the public from coming into direct contact with dangerous exotics, and exempt members of the Zoological Association of America as well as people and facilities licensed by the USDA.
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported in August about lax and fragmented oversight of exotic animal owners in Wisconsin, including by the USDA.
Three of the 15 speakers testified against the bill, including the executive director of the ZAA, the park director of Wisconsin’s only ZAA-accredited zoo, and a nonprofit reptile rescue and educational group. Out of those three, both ZAA-affiliated speakers said they would support the legislation if the amendment were added.
The 12 speakers testifying in favor of the bill included the owner of a big cat rescue organization, a wildlife rehabilitator, a veterinary assistant, animal advocates and zoo directors.
Even some proponents warned, however, that the measure contains loopholes that would make enforcement difficult. Some also told the committee that the proposed changes would gut the bill, leaving the state’s lenient approach to exotic animals largely intact. One speaker, Renee Benell of Fitchburg, questioned why other species such as snakes and monkeys were not included in the ban.
Dean Collins, Brookfield’s assistant police chief, told lawmakers the law would be “unenforceable” because it does not authorize officers to arrest owners who violate it. Collins also said unless the bill is amended to create a statewide database of animals, authorities will not be able to determine the owners of animals that escape or are released.
The amendment to exempt certain licensees and allow public contact with dangerous exotics has not been formally introduced yet, said Valirie Maxim, a Wanggaard staffer. The senator’s chief of staff, Scott Kelly, said the bill likely will get a vote near the end of October in the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
Wanggaard has said the measure was partially inspired by reports of a lion-like creature near Milwaukee, thought to be an escaped or released exotic pet and a 2013 incident in which police and the Racine Zoo discovered rattlesnakes, alligators, crocodiles, a snapping turtle and a Gila monster in a Kenosha home.
Push for stricter bill
Melissa Tedrowe, the Wisconsin state director for the Humane Society of the United States, attended the hearing and said she hopes to work with lawmakers to refine elements of SB 241, particularly its grandfather clause.
Under the bill, people who owned dangerous exotic animals at the time the bill went to effect could keep their pets, but would be required to pay a fee and register the animals with their municipality. Enforcement of the law would be the responsibility of local governments, and owners would be required to notify local authorities if their dangerous exotic pet escaped.
Tedrowe recommended that in cases in which existing exotic pets are grandfathered in, Wisconsin lawmakers should require owners to have a minimum five acres of land, have at least two years’ experience caring for such an animal or pass a written exam on caring for the species.
Tedrowe also said lawmakers should require exotic pet owners exempted under the grandfather clause to carry liability insurance in case the animal harms anyone or causes damage. In addition, she suggested any owner of a “dangerous” exotic pet be at least 21 years old and that all such pets be microchipped “unless a veterinarian says it’s not a good idea.”
Chuck Wikenhauser, director of the Milwaukee County Zoo, said in an interview that he was surprised to find out lawmakers were already considering an amendment. On behalf of all five Wisconsin zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Wikenhauser testified in favor of the bill but against the proposed amendment to allow people to come in contact with the animals and exempt those with licenses from the USDA or accreditation through the ZAA.
“A lot of roadside zoos or zoos that are less than adequate as far as their ability to manage animals with modern zoological standards have USDA licenses, and it doesn’t necessarily qualify them or make them prime candidates to home some of these dangerous exotic animals,” Wikenhauser said.
The Milwaukee zoo belongs to the AZA, an organization that Wikenhauser, who chairs the group’s accreditation commission, said has been the professional standard recognized by the federal and state governments for many years. Members of that organization, including the Racine Zoo (Wanggaard is a board member), are already exempt under SB 241.
But Zoological Association of America executive director Alan Smith, who opposes the bill unless it is amended, said in an email that “there are really no important differences” in terms of animal welfare and public safety between facilities accredited by the two associations. The ZAA lists Wildwood Wildlife Park and Nature Center in Minocqua, which is also licensed by the USDA, as its only Wisconsin member.
But Wikenhauser said broadening the exemption “waters down the bill.”
“If (the bill) is amended to include all of that,” he said, “I don’t think it’s going to accomplish what (lawmakers) had hoped it would.”
This is the latest installment in the series “Exotic and exploited?”, which examines Wisconsinites’ relationships with exotic animals and efforts to regulate them. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.
Banned or not banned?
Senate Bill 241 and Assembly Bill 333 would ban the breeding, sale and ownership of certain
“dangerous” exotic animals in Wisconsin in some instances. But some dangerous animals are already banned, and others would be allowed under the measure.
Would be banned: “Dangerous” exotic animals
Lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards, Sunda clouded leopards, cheetahs, big cat hybrids, Asiatic black bears, brown bears, polar bears, sloth bears, sun bears, giant panda bears, spectacled bears, bear hybrids, gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gibbons, alligators, crocodiles and caimans could not be kept as pets.
Already banned: Wildlife native to Wisconsin
Under existing state law, native wildlife, species deemed “harmful,” and endangered or threatened species cannot be kept as pets. The list of species currently banned include white-tailed deer, mink, badgers, wild and feral swine, cougars, black bears, raccoon, weasels, striped skunk, Canadian lynx, gray wolves, bobcats, red foxes and Northern river otters.
Not banned: Other exotic animals
Boa constrictors, anacondas, ball pythons, capuchin monkeys, marmosets, baboons, mandrills, macaques, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, chameleons, iguanas, geckos, bearded dragons, sugar gliders, chinchillas, lemurs, sloths, kangaroos, wallabies and zebras could continue to be kept as pets.
The Humane Society of the United States reports that 42 airlines have announced or reaffirmed bans on wildlife trophy shipments on their carriers since the killing of Cecil the lion earlier this summer.
Cecil, one of Africa’s most famous lions and a protected animal, was killed in early July after being lured from Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe to be hunted. Minnesota dentist and trophy hunter Walter James Palmer killed the lion.
American Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, Jet Blue, United and Virgin have banned shipments of lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo trophies, according to the nonprofit advocacy group.
The Humane Society noted that shipping giants UPS and FedEx and South African Airways have yet to take such action.
In a statement on Aug. 26, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, called “upon them to get in line with emerging industry standards for animal welfare and conservation and to stop shipping trophies from these rare animals gunned down in their native habitats.”
Pacelle added, “UPS and other shipping carriers and airlines have the opportunity to help us fight this enterprise of globe-trotting trophy hunting of the rarest, most remarkable animals in the world. We urge these entities to follow in the footsteps of Virgin, Delta, United and other airlines and freight carriers.”
Since the killing of the Cecil, which drew global attention to the issue of wildlife trophy hunts, several members of Congress have introduced bills to restrict wildlife trophy imports.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, introduced a bill to ban imports of trophies and parts from African lions and other at-risk species.
U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson, both Democrats from Texas, plan to sponsor a bill to amend the Endangered Species Act to ban “all acts of senseless and perilous trophy killings.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have introduced bills to restrict intrastate sales and transportation of animal trophies.
Within the last six months or so, we’ve worked with many of the biggest names in the food business to announce their commitment to stop selling eggs from caged hens. Aramark, Compass Group, Dunkin Brands, Hilton, Kellogg, Nestle, Sodexo, Starbucks, and Walmart have all made public pledges to shift their egg-purchasing practices away from battery cage confinement systems. Today, we’re pleased to announce that General Mills, one of the nation’s largest food makers, is joining the list.
“We commit to working toward 100 percent cage free eggs for our U.S. operations,” says General Mills — which owns brands like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Progresso Soups, and Hamburger Helper — in its new policy. “We recognize that the current avian influenza outbreak has been deeply disruptive to the U.S. egg supply and producers. As the industry works to rebuild its supply chain, we will work with suppliers to determine a path and reasonable timeline toward this commitment.”
General Mills is grounding its policy on the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, a set of principles that will translate into better outcomes for all of the animals in its supply chain. With the Five Freedoms in mind, the company’s policy pledges continual improvement by also examining solutions to solve other key animal welfare concerns, including subjecting animals to tail docking, de-horning, and, without the administration of pain killers, castration. It’s also translating into an examination of issues related to rapid growth of broiler chickens and turkeys.
Certainly the highlight of this announcement is the commitment to switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs. And as the egg industry considers its production strategies in light of the impact of bird flu on cage confinement facilities, there’s an opportunity for the industry to pivot away from caging hens altogether and make the transition to higher-welfare, cage-free systems.
Commodities expert Urner Barry recently reported that cage facilities have been hit much harder by bird flu than cage-free facilities. In many parts of the country, prices for battery-cage eggs doubled at the height of the outbreak. Because the volume of birds in a single cage confinement facility is so large, if even a single bird gets sick, then the entire flock must be killed — a devastating outcome for the birds and the farmers.
Common sense and sound science tell us that warehousing animals in cramped cages is bad for both the animals and for us. The veal industry is eliminating its cruel crates. Many of the largest pork producers are eliminating gestation crates. And now, with many food companies like General Mills pledging to eliminate chicken cages from their egg supplier chains, the egg industry can accelerate its own shift toward cage-free housing. For the sake of animals and consumers, it can’t happen fast enough.
Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of the Human Society of the United States. This piece appeared in his blog “A Humane Nation.”
The Humane Society of the United States says Kohl’s department store is selling a men’s jacket containing real animal fur as “faux.”
The results of the investigation by the HSUS were released on Sept. 23, along with a report that the jacket remained on sale at Kohls.com as of 12:05 p.m.
Last year, the HSUS issued a consumer warning against the department after an investigation revealed that merchandise sold online was labeled as “faux” but in fact was made with rabbit fur.
The latest investigation, according to the HSUS, shows that Kohls is marketing a men’s parka as trimmed with “faux” fur but the product actually is trimmed with raccoon dog fur.
The finding prompted the HSUS to issue another consumer warning.
On the Web
The Humane Society of the United States and the fur-free campaign.
Photos on this page:
A pile of raccoon dog pelts. — PHOTO: Swiss Animal Protection / EAST Intl.
A dead raccoon dog. — PHOTO: Swiss Animal Protection / EAST Intl.
An R&O Hooded Parka. — PHOTO: The HSUS / Grzybowski
The Humane Society of the United States is urging the adoption of humane programs for resolving conflicts with geese after confirming that an Illinois homeowner’s association had 60 Canada geese and goslings rounded up and killed last Friday.
The humane society said such efforts might include:
• Coating eggs with corn oil to prevent hatching.
• Using specially-trained dogs or lasers to humanely harass geese away from areas where they’re not wanted.
• Altering the habitat to make it less attractive to geese.
The Candlewick Lake Association in Poplar Grove, Illinois, never responded to an offer of assistance and instead went forward with its plan to have the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services round up and kill the geese.
“Communities across the country have established effective ways to control geese populations without killing them,” said Lynsey White Dasher, director of humane wildlife conflict resolution for the HSUS. “These types of programs keep lakes, public areas and yards clean and restore peace within the community. It is a shame the board discounted these humane solutions and instead decided to kill the geese.”
The Humane Society of the United States and Dr. Jana Kohl, granddaughter of the founder of the Wisconsin-based Kohl’s, want the department store to go fur-free.
Their proposal has been filed in the form of a shareholder resolution that asks Kohl’s to adopt a policy stating that the company plans to cease animal fur sales.
“In the last two years, Kohl’s has made a number of vague and confusing statements to customers and shareholders pertaining to its sales of animal fur,” P.J. Smith, corporate outreach manager of the fur-free campaign for the HSUS said in a news release. “The Humane Society of the United States is asking Kohl’s to be consistent with its statements about animal fur and move away from an unnecessary and inhumane product, especially because so many faux fur alternatives are available.”
The release said Kohl’s has sent its customers and shareholders confusing statements about fur sales in recent years, including:
• “We do not intend on discontinuing our minimal use of fur.
• “We typically do not carry merchandise made of animal fur.”
• “We carry a minimal amount of merchandise using fur; however, occasional seasonal items use fur accents.”
Jana Kohl, in a statement, said, “It brings me great sadness that my family name is now associated with the fur business, an industry marked by such barbaric cruelty against animals that it’s nothing short of legalized torture. I call on Kohl’s to be a corporate leader, showing concern for the environment, social responsibility and humane practices. I urge them to set an example for other corporations to begin to repair our world before it’s too late.”
Many retailers, designers and brands – more than 300 operating in the United States – already have agreed to stop the sale of animal fur products because of inhumane treatment of animals. Companies on the organization’s fur-free list include JCPenney, Forever 21, Liz Claiborne, Urban Outfitters, Gap, J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.
Foxes, rabbits, raccoon dogs, domestic dogs and cats, mink and cotes are killed by the fur trade, which also is linked to pollution and the accidental taking of endangered species, according to the Humane Society.
Kohl’s Corporation is headquartered in Menomonee Falls.
The company does not have a strong national reputation on LGBT issues, earning only a 15 out of 100 on the Buying for Equality guide from the Human Rights Campaign.
Did you know…
The United States bans the sale of dog and cat fur, but recent investigations found that dog fur is still slipping into the country on unlabeled and falsely advertised jackets, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
On the Web…