International Circus Announces End To 'Outdated' Elephant Act

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Forcing elephants to perform is cruel and archaic, another circus has decided.

Bill Cunningham, owner of the George Carden International Circus, told The Dodo that it will retire its elephant act by 2019. He explained that having elephants perform tricks "doesn't appeal to our higher selves and I think we as a society have evolved in too many other areas for that practice to continue unchanged."

Cunningham bought the circus from its original owner, George Carden, in December 2013. For years, the circus has had a questionable history with animal welfare, including violations of the Animal Welfare Act for failing to provide tigers with adequate space and neglecting to provide veterinary care to one elephant with a foot lesion and another elephant with three open wounds on his forehead and legs.


But now, the elephants are on the way out. In an odd twist, Carden continues to own a company that owns and rents out elephants for use in circuses, and he had arranged a 20-year contract with Cunningham to continue to exhibit his elephants in the namesake circus he formerly owned. But right from the start, Cunningham wanted to do away with the elephant acts.

"There are so many different types of entertainment available that could be included in circus, and advanced technology to present acts it in compelling ways, so why continue with a genre - performing elephants - that seems outdated and alienates potential fans?" he told The Dodo.


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.