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Friday, February 5, 2016

Elephants on their way out

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is in town. When we began taking our boys, the RBBB headliners were liontamer Gunther Gebel-Williams and clown David Larible. It wasn't long, in retrospect, before Williams retired and Larible returned to his native Europe — indications that even though the circus might superficially look the same year after year, it's always changing.

That's a noteworthy theme in 2016 because RBBB has accelerated its schedule to retire their elephants. The final performances will be in three months. People speculate that other wild animals in the circus, like lions and tigers, will go next. So much for Williams' legacy. Indeed, Feld Entertainment (which owns and operates RBBB) has pulled one of their three traveling units off the road, and there are rumors that the other two units will merge. Demographics and customer preferences are changing too.

The elephant question prompts me to think about animal rights in a broader context. I'm not a vegetarian and I'm definitely not a PETA member. Usually I deride the stereotype of a well-intentioned but overly zealous PETA lunatic. On the other hand, it seems barbaric to me to confine animals in old-style zoo cages. (The NC Zoo allows some of its animals to roam outdoors, with the inevitable consequence that they cannot be seen most of the time.) I don't object to laboratory mice, but photos of laboratory beagles disturb me. Hunting whales and baby seals is repugnant, but exterminating mosquitoes seems not only natural but absolutely satisfying. Not an orderly, consistent point of view, is it?

Overall I suppose it's time for circus elephants to fade out, but curiously I feel a little sad about it.