I was surprised how excited I was to take my kids to “The Greatest Show on Earth,” on Saturday.
The last time I’d been to The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was at least 30 years ago, and I knew my four and five year old kids would be captivated by the show.
I had a few reservations regarding animal treatment, but my visit to the Ringling’s site help allay my fears. The site itself is fresh, fun, filled with video and is easy to navigate. Prominent on the homepage was a link to their Center for Elephant Conservation, that was “established in 1995 to help preserve and protect the species’ well-being.”
My conscience clear, my wife, kids and nanny all hit the circus on Saturday.
The show started at 11:30, but ticket holders could see the animals at 10:00 a.m.
The first thing that surprised me was how close we were able to get to the animals, especially the elephants, with very little protection:
I was pleasantly surprised when the guy who sold us our snowcones said, “look for me up on the concourse if you’d like a refill.”
I also didn’t expect the souvenir cups to be high quality and guaranteed for two years, or for them to give you a card with a 24 hour toll-free feedback number.
At 10:30, the show floor was opened and we were able to walk right down on the floor and mingle with the entertainers.
Pop music was playing giving the pre-show a real contemporary feel, and jugglers, clowns, acrobats and animals performed for nearly an hour—up close and personal. You could take your picture with a number of the entertainers (not staged, just as they were walking around) and you could even try on costumes.
At 11:30 the show started, and as expected, there was plenty to put you on the edge of your seat.
This was not the circus I remembered: Elephant conservation? You get to see the animals before the show? Refills? Quality products? Guarantees? Feedback cards?
We left the show with smiles on our faces, and I was excited about my blog post—Responsible Marketing at the circus? Cool.
But as we exited the show, there were perhaps a dozen people protesting Ringling’s treatment of animals. “Please say no, because the animals can’t” read one sign, and I had a sinking feeling in my gut.
Then I received a response to my Twitter post “Taking the kids to the greatest show on earth,” from Joe Kennedy asking if there were any protesters and if I paid for the $10 for the cotton candy. I sheepishly responded positively to both.
I had to know more, so I dug a little deeper. The information I found is troubling:
- Behind-the-scenes videos of elephants being beaten (Warning: Contains violence, cruelty and profanity)
- A highly publicized testimonial from a former Ringling employee
- An exodus of corporate sponsors due to animal cruelty charges
- An animal cruelty lawsuit being brought by ASPCA
Ringling Bros. has an animal care FAQ response to the questions regarding elephants deaths is “In the last 15 years, 25 elephants died, most as the result of old age.”
I commend Ringling for all the positive changes I mentioned above. I’d love to think they are part of the new, improved Ringling. . . that the ‘transparency’ they were offering in letting us see the animals before the show was authentic.
Still, I’m uneasy.
I’m embarassed I didn’t look further than the Ringling website for information regarding animal treatment—if I’d had known I was going to write this, I would have done my due diligence.
And I’m genuinely uncomfortable thinking that by ‘investing’ in the circus, I’ve helped fund animal torture.
After all, when we visited the animals in pre-show, my wife asked me, “How could they have ever trained the elephants to stay behind that single line?”
Now, I’m almost afraid to know the answer.
Is the Ringling Bros. new transparency just a ruse and their Center for Elephant Conservation nothing more than obfuscation?
Or do you think Ringling is turning the corner and working to become more responsible?
Comment below to weigh in.