Thursday, August 22, 2013

Elephants in the City

Ladies and Gentleman, Children of all ages... step right up and see a family of animals that has been bred for generations purely to be exploited for your entertainment!

In case you haven't guessed, the circus has come to Austin and it absolutely breaks my heart that there is so little that I can do to help end the disgusting exploitation of the magnificent animals put on display for "family fun." 

As I drove downtown earlier this week, it was impossible to ignore the many, many trailers boasting the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey logo that lined the freeway near the Frank Erwin Center. Fliers have been put up in stores and special ticket promotions are sitting on counters and parents are rushing to secure their tickets to take their children to see the spectacle. 

Meanwhile, there are the individuals that know better. People like myself who rip down the fliers and toss out the ticket pamphlets in a small attempt to discourage or prevent more ticket sales. It's not that I don't find the Elephants, Horses and Llamas fascinating, but as an animal lover, I refuse to support any organization that treats their animals as a commodity. 

As I left my screen printing studio this afternoon (I showcase animals in a loving way - my artwork on tote bags!), something compelled me towards the quiet circus grounds. As I parked and paid the city meter, I had an almost eerie feeling. The area around the Frank Erwin Center was fairly isolated, only a few individuals passed me, no doubt running for a coffee break during work hours. I slipped into the Frank Erwin grounds fairly unnoticed, minus one sleepy ticket salesman who only gave me a minor glace as I passed. 

The unnatural scene that will stick in my mind forever.
I walked through the many trailers parked around the grounds, I snapped a few photos of the tents that held the Llamas and goats. I saw a man working with two little Dachshunds, who I assume are part of an act, but who also could have simply been the performers own pets. Then, as I walked across an upper balcony, I spotted one of the Elephants heading my way. My immediate reaction was not one of joy, but one that almost took my breath away. The Elephant herself looked quite healthy physically, but there was a lack of life in this beautiful creature. She plodded slowly behind a trainer who carried what I assume was an electric prodder (note, this stick was not at all used on the Elephant while I was watching).  The Elephant obviously knew what to do and what not to do. She walked close-by but quietly and as she neared me, my heart just sank knowing that this - a traveling circus - is possibly all she will know for the remainder of her life.

I quickly took out my phone and started snapping photos and when I looked back on them this afternoon, the thing that really stuck with me was how unnatural this whole scene looks. An Elephant, one of the largest and most magnificent animals out there, walking down an alley with a busy freeway - an entire city - simply driving on, finishing their daily tasks. I stayed in place long after the trainer and Elephant had disappeared into the building. It wasn't until a security guard finally approached that I turned to leave. As I walked away, I couldn't help but feel a little bit sad and empty at the lack of compassion among the many humans who continue to use these animals for entertainment. 

Now, I have seen Elephants up close in a zoo environment, and while I still don't agree with that situation, I at least give (some) Zoos credit for trying to be an educational experience for children to see these animals up close. (I fully support educational sanctuaries, where animals who cannot be released to the wild are provided a much more natural environment.). What are children learning from the circus? I would like to say 'nothing' in response to that question, but in reality children are learning about animal cruelty. They are seeing first hand that being cruel to animals can lead to an entertaining experience. 

After I arrived home and hugged my puppies, I decided to visit the Ringling Bros website to do a little reading and hear what they have to say for themselves regarding the treatment of their animals. It looks like a lot of fluff that most organizations who use animals as their main source of entertainment put out there (i.e. we build a relationship based on trust, etc), but a couple of interesting tidbits did catch my eye. As I browsed, I noticed the 'Elephant Conservation Center" which on their website looks lovely - wow, a center dedicated to preserving the Elephant species. That sounds wonderful, right? Wrong. In reality, this compound is simply a breeding facility for more circus performers. A quick Google search led me to story after story of the circus Elephants that have been bred out of this facility. I am not going to share any stories here without doing hours of research, but you are welcome to Google them yourself and share your responses on my Facebook page

In addition to reading about the breeding facility, I also started reading through the Animal Care FAQs. I noticed that the website skirts around the training questions, and it's no surprise to me at all. Anyone who has ever researched how Elephants and other circus animals are trained walks away from their computer screen feeling sick. 

The Ringling Bros website also hosts a number of quotes that are outright lies. They state that captive Elephants have a longer life-span than Wild Elephants. (A lie that Sea World will also state regarding their captive Orcas). In the wild, Asian Elephants live an average of 50 - 70 years. In captivity, the average is estimates between 17 - 30 years. It's sad to see the blatant lies that organizations put out there. Of course, this is the average and there will be exceptions, I am sure than many Elephants have lived long lives in captivity and many wild Elephants have died young. Even so, the thought of an entire life of being forced to perform is heartbreaking. When I think Elephant, I envision a herd of animals socializing in the wild. Seeing photos (because I refuse to go to a circus) of these animals with bows and glittery decorations on their heads, balancing on their hind legs (which is not at all a natural position for Elephants) just feels wrong. 

It's hard to resist the lights and the excitement when the circus comes to town. It's even harder to explain to your children why they shouldn't support the circus (especially if their friends have gone), but I believe that it is more important to do the right thing, in the moment. Share my blog, share the Elephants. Have your kids draw photos of Elephants and enjoy a documentary with them, where they will learn some wonderful and valuable information. Many times, parents believe that by exposing their children to these animals, despite the situation, they are teaching them - but think about Dinosaurs. Children know all about Dinosaurs and have never seen one up close in person. Do they love Dinosaurs? Absolutely! Teach your children love and compassion. Teach your children to stand up for animals, as they need our voices to stand up for what is right.

The "Greatest Show On Earth" is one where animals are treated with compassion. One where we are given a show in nature, not because we force them to do it, but because the animals are free and happy. Live vicariously through the Discovery Channel and avoid supporting organizations that abuse and exploit animals for profit. 

Stephanie Conrad
Pet Studio Art | Owner | Artist

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