In a country with dozens of elephant camps masquerading as sanctuaries, one spot in Thailand stands out as the real deal — Elephant Nature Park, a refuge for dozens of elephants rescued from logging concessions, the entertainment industry and land mine explosions.
Most of the elephant camps in Thailand allow visitors to ride the animals, a sign that they are beaten into submission by “trainers.” Elephant Nature Park, on the other hand, prioritizes the needs of the elephants by rehabilitating them, incorporating them into a herd and providing them with as natural an environment as possible.
When Ringling Bros. announced plans to eliminate its elephant act in 2018, the company stated it would retire the traveling herd to its Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.
Animals are trained to perform tricks at a “conservation” center?
To the general public, the center sounds like an idyllic home for the elephants because “conservation” conjures up images of freedom, safety and care. But, for several reasons, Ringling’s facility is the wrong place to retire these elephants:
The “Conservation” Center is the training facility where Ringling “breaks” baby elephants. When babies destined for the circus are born at the center, Ringling trainers kidnap them from their mothers, chain them for up to 22 hours a day and beat them with weapons until they perform circus tricks on command. Ringling is therefore not retiring the elephants to a loving home; they are returning them to the people who broke them and stripped them of everything that makes life worth living. To the elephants, who have very long memories, the Conservation Center is a place that signifies pain, anguish, deprivation, domination, brutality and terror.
Ringling trainers tie down baby elephants and assault them with weapons to break them
Conservation Center employees carry bullhooks, weapons to control the elephants’ behavior. In its own promotional video spinning its training and breeding facility into a “conservation” center, Ringling employees can be seen carrying bullhooks. How can living in constant fear of assault and being surrounded by people who terrorized them constitute a humane retirement?
Employees carry elephant weapons at Ringling’s Center For Elephant Conservation
The Conservation Center is entirely inadequate. Ringling’s facility is closed to the public, and that is probably because the company doesn’t want visitors to see babies being broken and elephants living in small enclosures, often chained on two legs in a concrete barn.
Ringling’s facility is not – and can never be – a sanctuary for the elephants who were abused there
One woman who did manage to see the center posted this video, which shows an elephant swaying in her enclosure — a sign of boredom, frustration and/or grief.
When Ringling stops training elephants for the circus, the company will assuredly find ways to continue exploiting them for profit at its conservation center (after expanding the enclosures) – perhaps through selling tickets for visitors to view them in a zoo-like setting and/or to take elephant rides.
Ringling has always treated its animals like commodities. In fact, they plan to continue forcing the elephants to travel in box cars and perform in circuses until 2018. And they intend to continue using other wild animals in the circus indefinitely. The public should therefore have no reason to believe that, three years from now, Ringling’s owners will suddenly put the elephants’ interests ahead of their own.
In the wild, elephants don’t balance on stools and form “conga lines”
The elephants should be relocated to an accredited sanctuary and placed in the hands of caregivers, not trainers. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has stated it would welcome the Ringling elephants onto its 2,000 acre reserve.
The 2,000 acre Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee would rescue Ringling’s elephants (photo: The Elephant Sanctuary)
The fact that Ringling describes its training and breeding facility as a “conservation” center will be the subject of a future story.
Please sign the petition demanding that Ringling retires its elephants now — not in 2018. Ringling’s facility is not yet equipped to accommodate more elephants, so retiring them now would mean that they could be sent to an accredited sanctuary.