Beyond the violence, there were other concerns, as well. Workplace safety hazards became an issue, "and the public was angry at that." In fact, Nance continues, "When I saw ‘Blackfish,' I thought [in terms of circus elephants] for crying out loud it's the same story! If I hadn't had my book in production when I saw that film, they would have thought one of us plagiarized each other! It was the same exact storyline: Put the animals in captivity. Then, they get bigger. Someone gets killed. Someone tries to cover it up. The public finds out. And they get really upset."
One of the other reasons Nance speculates circus elephants haven't had their Blackfish-moment might come down to socio-economics. "SeaWorld is expensive. It costs a lot to go. But Feld Entertainment - which owns Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus and Disney on Ice - refers to itself as a 'Walmart' for entertainment: it has a working class audience. Historically, in the United States, it is the middle and upper classes which motivates animal welfare movements." This difference in audience demographic might be a determining factor in the different outcomes for elephants and orcas in captivity, she suggests.
Journalist Carol Bradley has also spent a great deal of time researching circus elephants for her book, "Last Chain On Billie." (Bradley was quoted in a recent piece in The Dodo on two circus elephants, Rosie and Opal.) Bradley also sees a many reasons why circus elephants haven't had their Blackfish-moment.
"I believe a growing percentage of the public [in fact] does feel queasy about seeing captive wild animals performing in a ring, even if they can't articulate why. People will ask: if elephants are so abused, why isn't there a law prohibiting it?"
"They don't understand," she explains, "that there is a law, the federal Animal Welfare Act. But it is weakly written and poorly enforced." For example, says Bradley, "The Animal Welfare Act allows elephant handlers to use bullhooks and, even when there are obvious injuries to elephants, there are too few federal inspectors to monitor their welfare." Moreover, Bradley says the circus industry is a financial powerhouse and is very effective at lobbying: "Circuses have spent millions of dollars trying to paint protestors as left wing nut jobs ... According to the group Center for Public Integrity, Ringling Bros. spent $335,000 in 2012 alone lobbying Congress and the federal government not to clamp down on circuses."
Lastly, Bradley says that for the public, it's hard to imagine that elephants - the largest terrestrial animal - would do a trick on a stage if they didn't want to. "They trot out into the ring of their own accord and actually seem to be smiling as they go about standing on tubs, balancing on their front legs and so on. The public isn't aware that elephants undergo training from the time they're babies, when they are very vulnerable. They can grow to be 8,000 pounds - but still fear the bullhook and the trainer carrying it."