How a Community of People Got Ringling Bros. to Drop Elephant Acts


Recently, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus announced that they are phasing out the use of elephants in their circus acts by 2018. According to an article in USA Today, Feld Entertainment—the circus’ parent company—announced that they are phasing out elephant acts because, “Members of the public have voiced concerns about how elephants and other animals are treated in circus acts.”

Many of the concerns people have expressed likely stem from reports and graphic video documentation showing Ringling Bros. animal handlers using bullhooks—metal devices with sharp points used to control the elephants. Elephants’ skin appears deceptively tough, but in reality it is so delicate that an elephant can feel the pain of an insect bite. The use of bullhooks can cause both physical and psychological harm to elephants. In addition to causing pain to force elephants to perform tricks, they spend the majority of their lives chained by the ankle in parking lots and in trains or trucks. In 2011, Ringling Bros. was fined $270,000 by the USDA for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Communities Creating Change

Individuals and groups stood together to make a statement for these animals. That they should not be forced to spend their entire lives jumping through hoops, balancing on balls, and performing countless acts that they normally would not do if they were in their natural habitat.

Achieving this change was not something that happened overnight. This change took several years of protests, outreach, and inviting people into the conversation about using animals as entertainment and how that often leads to their abuse and neglect.

I spent several years focusing on inviting people into this conversation. I worked for the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on their Animals in Entertainment campaign. During this time, I was invited to speak at high schools and colleges, was interviewed by media outlets, and talked with people all over the U.S. on how they could make a difference for animals forced to perform in circuses. I also helped people organize activism on a local level.

The thought of going up against a billion dollar industry alone felt overwhelming and discouraging. When I realized that I was standing with individuals and organizations that shared the same vision I had—to make the world a better place for all life—it gave me the strength to push through the hard times. This is the beauty of being in community—to be supported and in conversation with others around collaboration, possibility, and action.

Building Pachamama Alliance Communities

At Pachamama Alliance we are working with our Awakening the Dreamer Symposium Facilitators, volunteers, and movement partners, on growing the critical mass of committed people who are informed, engaged, and in action to create a world that works for all.

Taking on this huge task of transformation can make you feel alone and overwhelmed and that is why it is so important for us to work together in communities on a local level. When we are working together, anything is possible.

From conversations and collaborations with experts in the field of community-building and our own Pachamama Alliance communities, we created the Up to Us engagment pathway. The Up to Us engagement pathway gives people, like you, the tools and support needed to take on this huge and important task and to be in community together. With the tools of Up to Us, you can invite people into the conversation of growth and what is possible—an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet. And in the case of Ringling Bros., one where the elephants will be able to live free of cruel treatment by no longer being forced to perform for entertainment.

If you want to learn more about building or joining a Pachamama Alliance community, contact me. I would love to be in conversation with you!

Congratulations to everyone who came together as a community to stand up for elephants and make a courageous stand for change.

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