The Ringling Circus Elephants: Another “Victory” That Isn’t

According to the animal welfare corporations, the decision to remove elephants from the Ringling Circus in three years represents a victory of monumental proportions. In fact, I received this email (my email program thought it was a “scam”!) from Paul Shapiro of HSUS, who, quoting no less a figure than Nelson Mandela, declared it to be a “historic announcement”:

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(click to enlarge)

I have been expressing my view that to call this a “victory” is beyond absurd and I have gotten the usual reaction from “animal people” who are so taken in by the fundraising propaganda of the large groups that they can’t see the very serious problems here. They are upset with me that I just won’t get with the welfarist, single-issue program.

Here is one of the many, many messages (at least this one did not contain name calling and vulgarity) I received and my reply:

I am really upset to see that you are criticizing the victory we had about the Ringling elephants being freed. Why are you doing that? Do you want the elephants to suffer?

My reply:

First, no, of course I do not want the elephants to suffer. If that was a serious question, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Second, they’re not “free[ing]” the elephants. In three years, they will be moved from the circus to a “conservation center” where Ringling breeds elephants and where research is done. If that is a “victory,” I’d hate to see what “defeat” looks like.

Third, Ringling is continuing to use other animals and is *adding* new animal acts. They just added camel “stunt” acts. It’s not as if the removal of elephants means a reduction in the numbers of animals used. It just means that different animals will be used. And elephants are not morally more valuable than any of those other animals.

Fourth, the animal welfare corporations have spent *35 years* focused on (and fundraising off of) elephants in the circus. And what is the result? Elephants are moved from one exploitative context to another one and other animals keep getting exploited. Great. Some “victory.”

Fifth, and what about all of the animals who are being tortured and killed so that people who go to the circus can stuff their faces with meat, cheese, ice cream, milk, etc.?

Bottom line: if we focused on unequivocal vegan education for those 35 years, and put all of the millions and millions of dollars and other resources into abolitionist vegan education that have been wasted on the elephant campaign, we’d have far more vegans than we presently have now and these vegans would be vegans for the right reason: that it’s wrong to exploit sentient beings however “humanely” we may treat them.

And vegans don’t go to circuses.

I hope you understand things more clearly now.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University


If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University

©2015 Gary L. Francione