Ringling Brothers is eliminating elephants from their circus acts, essentially due to public complaints and concerns about the elephants welfare. I don't know if this is better for the elephants or not. I do know that I have a vet school classmate who was a traveling circus vet that attended to and loved the elephants. She says they were healthy and thriving in their environment and very much enjoyed her job, which she no longer has because of this change.
I don't have a strong opinion on circus elephants one way or the other. The concerning part about this issue is that people can google a few inflammatory videos, hunt up some disgruntled former employees and start a movement to eliminate an institution whether they really know the truth or not. They simply gather a following of emotionally charged supporters, start a few websites and the next thing you know, no elephants. The problem is, what's to stop people from doing this other places? And I'm certainly not saying I am the most informed on this or any other issue, but I do know that you can't believe everything you see on the internet, and that there is often more to any story than someone wants you to know.
You can google circus/zoo/farm/etc animal abuse/mistreatment and find flaws in any industry. I absolutely don't believe any group or place is perfect and there are some things that I believe could be changed and things I don't believe in. For example, I don't eat veal because I don't believe in how they are raised. I don't crop ears in dogs because I think it's an unnecessary cosmetic surgery. But because we believe or don't believe in something doesn't necessarily make it right or wrong. Everyone has a different definition of right and wrong on these issues. And while some are more universally accepted as right or wrong, it still remains largely public and personal opinion, which is subject to change over time.
But simply because you personally don't believe in something does not make it ok for you to vilify everyone who does and start a movement to end an industry with no regard for the consequences. I personally do not hunt. I don't see the fun or the sport of it. I see enough death at work. But I am an adult and I understand the need for it. I understand what would happen to all the deer if hunting didn't exist and I don't vilify those that do or accuse them of not loving animals. I understand that people choose not to eat meat or dairy, or whatever. But going on facebook crusades posting anti-animal agriculture videos and accusing everyone who eats meat of not loving animals is ludicrous. Think about the consequences if these vegan crusaders were successful. Let's say everyone stopped eating meat tomorrow. Some farm animals would continue to be kept or raised as pets and show animals. But only a few. The remainder would live out their lives and die of old age, disease, or euthanasia. This may or may not be more pleasant than current slaughter procedures.
In fact if we are going to talk about neglect, abuse or mistreatment of animals in specific settings, it is probably most common in pets. Pets are easy to get (see previous post) and there are very few requirements for legally keeping your pet. I see animals every day that suffer from chronically painful or uncomfortable conditions, animals with preventable diseases, animals that live lonely lives in the back yard or on a chain, or suffer for months before being brought in for euthanasia. And these are just the animals that make it to the clinic. There are likely far more out there that go without adequate food, water, and medical care, not to mention those that are actually physically abused. But should we try to eliminate all pet ownership because of a few bad apples just as we eliminate circus elephants because of a few videos? Not all owners/zoos/circuses/etc are created equal, and treating them as such is not fair to anyone.
People like this need to be careful of the trend they are setting. Depending on their involvement with animals they could be the next target of one these groups. They may come after show horses, race horses, working dogs, barn cats or any other animal used for work, entertainment or sport. They may even come after pets. There is an endless number of animal welfare topics that can be debated over and over again. Very few are black and white. Some are more black and white than others. Some have fewer shades of grey than others. All are subject to opinion but very few are subject to laws. The best that we can do is keep an open mind, gather all the facts, form an educated opinion and respect the opinion of others. Most often, this is easier said than done.