May 1 marks the end of elephants being hauled around the country to perform for Ringling Bros. circus. While we celebrate the termination of this cruel and archaic practice, tragically, the elephants will not be spending the rest of their lives in nirvana. Rather than sending them to a sanctuary, the elephants will be held at the company’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida, long known for chaining and keeping elephants on concrete and for using bullhooks and electric prods. While the site may have “conservation” in its name, the elephants will be bred to produce more captive elephants with no hope of returning to the wild.
The Animal Welfare Institute defines a sanctuary as a safe haven for wildlife who have suffered because of their captivity. It is a place that provides for the needs of the individual animals for the rest of their lives, including species-appropriate housing, veterinary care, enrichment, socialization, and safety. In a sanctuary, animals are not bred or used for commercial gain, and any exposure to the public is limited and certainly not permitted when such exposure comes at the expense of the animals’ welfare. Negative reinforcement and intensive confinement are also strictly prohibited. Ringling’s facility fails miserably to meet these parameters.
We call on the circus to do justice by these magnificent pachyderms and retire its elephants to a bona fide sanctuary.