Last month, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced it was retiring its elephant acts after 145 years, and the George Carden decision may mean the tide is turning against performing elephants.
Animal activists have applauded the move, arguing that elephants in circuses experience psychological and physical anguish. Delcianna Winders, deputy general counsel at PETA, told The Dodo that the move is further proof that the public rejects the practice of keeping elephants in circuses. She added that "separating baby elephants from their mothers and chaining and beating these sensitive, intelligent animals in order to force them to perform silly tricks" is inherently cruel.
After negotiating with Carden, Cunningham was able to reduce the elephant contract term by 75 percent, resulting in a 2019 date for the elephant-free show. Because the elephants belong to Carden, they will probably still have to perform - just not for the circus that bears his name.
"I like most are fascinated with the beauty and complexity of elephants, but I was never able to reconcile how or why the circus was 'stuck' on having these animals continue to perform," Cunningham said.