She has earned worldwide admiration and woos the crowds.
The gentleness of her character overshadows her size and strength.
Though she is unable to speak, her large, soulful eyes speak unconditional acceptance and forgiveness.
Yet, one can look deeper into those eyes and see a sense of longing. Is she hiding sadness or anger? Or is she truly content?
Mabel is a circus elephant.
She is one of dozens of Asian elephants traveling and performing with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.
The Ringling Bros. brand, now owned and run by Feld Entertainment, has entertained audiences worldwide since the late 1800s. Wild animal acts have always been a huge part of its audience draw, and the elephants have become synonymous with its image.
But times have changed, and changing times have brought up questions regarding animal captivity within public and private sectors over the past 30 years.
Zoos and circuses have come under fire for using wild animals as a source of entertainment and profit by animal rights watchdog organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Mercy for Animals, the ASPCA, The Humane Society of the United States, and North Carolina's Speak Out for Circus Animals.
Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, zoos and circuses are required to be licensed and monitored by the United States Department of Agriculture. The AWA regulates and sets guidelines for housing, transportation and care of animals.
Zoos and circuses are also subject to state and local animal welfare laws and permit requirements, to provide protection for the animals and allow for prosecution of those who neglect or mistreat animals in their care.
But even though wild animals, especially elephants, fall under a federal protection umbrella, a shift in public and expert awareness of the mighty elephant raises a crucial ethical question: Are they even ours to use and exploit in the first place?
According to Ringling Bros., "Studies have shown that the public display of performing elephants contributes to heightened public awareness of the animals themselves and of our responsibility for their well-being and protection.
"This is especially true for children, who not only become more aware of elephants and their special needs and abilities, but also experience firsthand the importance of caring for and respecting all animals."
However, Feld Entertainment has been cited by the USDA for failure to comply with humane treatment laws over 70 times since 1993.
In late 2011, the corporation was ordered to pay $270,000 in fines by the USDA - the largest civil penalty ever assessed against an exhibitor under the AWA.
In 2009, PETA recorded Ringling Bros. employees undercover for months in numerous U.S. states. Videotape and photos revealed repeated abuse and violence toward elephants, both backstage and at Ringling's Florida training center. Undercover footage from the investigation was published by PETA.
Ringling Bros. published a formal response to the PETA allegations on its website, claiming that while the footage appeared disturbing, it was also questionable.
In October 2012, the USDA opened a formal investigation into Ringling Bros. for violations of the AWA. Its most recent citation occurred in December 2014, for failure to maintain an adequate program of veterinary care for three elephants.
One of the claims made by Ringling Bros. on its website is that it has not violated any laws.
"In more than 40 years of current ownership, Ringling Bros. has never been found in violation of the AWA for abuse, neglect or mistreatment of its animals," Ringling says, adding, "In fact, in all aspects of animal care and safety, Ringling Bros. meets or exceeds all federal animal welfare standards."
In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from a number of animal rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year legal battle over unproven allegations that Ringling circus employees mistreated elephants.
Elephants are the largest land mammals living on earth. They also have the largest brains of any land mammals, including humans, with their brains having more complex folds than all animals except whales.
What makes an elephant's brain extraordinary is that the hippocampus - the region of the brain responsible for emotion and spatial awareness - is more developed than any other animal's.
Because of that heightened intelligence and awareness, elephants show definitive emotions of grief, humor and compassion, and social skills of cooperation, self-awareness and playfulness. They are known for grieving for their dead by paying homage to the fallen, making sure that all herd members have paid respect before moving on.
Elephant herds are matriarchal, run by the females, and very closely knit. So close, in fact, that a female elephant will only leave her herd if she dies or is captured.
With all those characteristics in mind, the practice of capturing and confining elephants to small spaces becomes an issue.
One well-recognized sign of profound deprivation and intense confinement in animals is a condition known as "zoochosis," a mental condition causing repetitive, abnormal behaviors. Elephants held in confinement often tend to exhibit zoochotic behavior either by swaying back and forth or pacing in circles.
They are creatures designed to move in herds on a daily basis, traveling hundreds of miles, so the sentence of confinement takes its toll on them just as it would humans.