When I was a kid, I went to the “Greatest Show on Earth” and, like millions of children before me, marveled at the amazing display of elephants performing tricks. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out a few crucial details missing from the experience. First, that elephants are extremely social and very intelligent animals. Second, the trainers tortured these same extremely social and very intelligent animals to get them to perform, often keeping them in chains and small cages when they weren’t dancing for our amusement.
Decades of litigation, protest and mounting scrutiny from swaths of animal rights activists, as well as a shifting public opinion toward the captivity and use of wild animals for entertainment, forced the circus to phase out its long-running elephant act for good. Feld Entertainment Inc., the circus’s parent company, announced the decision in March 2015, initially planning to retire their remaining touring elephants by 2018. But nearly a year later, the company said their elephants would perform for the final time in May, at least 18 months earlier than expected.
This is the very essence of activism and while some might say that defending elephants should be less important than, say, fighting to feed hungry children, I disagree. Our national soul is bleeding from a million tiny cuts and for every one we heal, it gets a little stronger to fight the larger cuts.
The Washington Post reports that the elephants, all of the endangered Asian variety, will be taken to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida where, fittingly, scientists will study them to help preserve the species. 40 is not quite large enough for a proper breeding population but it’s a good start.
Further supporting the hippie liberal activist stance that nature is more useful to us alive and thriving than dying in cages, scientists hope to find ways to prevent cancer in humans by studying the elephant’s blood:
In addition to aiding research in the endangered species, the herd at the Center for Elephant Conservation has become a key component in one doctor’s quest to develop cancer treatments for humans. Elephants have far fewer incidents of cancer, so researchers are looking for clues in the blood samples of Ringling elephants that could change how cancer is treated in pediatric patients.
It doesn’t excuse 145 years of torture and death (a lot of circus elephants have died under suspicious circumstances), but it’s a better end to a century and a half of animal cruelty than most would have hoped for.
Featured image via Getty.