Elephants who have endured years of suffering while earning Ringling millions of dollars deserve better—including rehabilitation for both their physical and their psychological troubles. This will not happen at the ‘Ringling Bros and Barnum &Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation’ (CEC). It could happen at the two accredited elephant sanctuaries in the U.S., the Performing Animal Welfare Society in California and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.
The CEC’s goal is to try to ensure a steady supply of captive elephants for circuses and now, more recently, zoos. CEC veterinarian Dr. Dennis Schmitt admitted under oath that the CEC has no intention of introducing elephants into the wild. And Ringling recklessly breeds elephants years before they are mature. Wild Asian elephants don’t normally have their first calves until they are 18 to 20 years old. But Shirley, for example, gave birth to her first calf at the CEC when she was just 8 years old, followed by two more at ages 11 and 17. At least four baby elephants born at the CEC have died.
According to the sworn testimony of the general manager of the CEC, some elephants at the facility are routinely chained on concrete floors for up to 23 hours a day. They are typically chained by two legs—one hind leg and one foreleg—which prevents them from taking more than a step or two in any direction. Chaining on hard surfaces makes elephants prone to arthritis, infection and psychological stress and can ultimately lead to premature death.
In another chilling revelation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the CEC is awash in tuberculosis (TB), calling it “the facility with the highest incidence of TB in their elephants,” and as a result, the CEC has been the subject of a series of government-mandated quarantines. Just last month, two Ringling workers were barred from performing in Indianapolis after testing positive for possible TB.
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