As anyone who has stumbled across the internet and sampled a tiny sliver of the astounding variety of cat videos, animals can be entertaining. For years animal rights advocates have been emphasizing the price those animals pay for our amusement.
When we learn that elephants are beaten in training, we may become a little less impressed by those amusing tricks. Maybe, we go to the movies or a concert instead of dragging the family to the circus.
After years of countering the rhetoric, and offering reforms in training methods, even litigating against its critics (and winning!), Ringling Brothers has given up, announcing that it will phase out the use of elephants in its circus shows. There are a lot of factors–as there always are: circus audiences are declining; taking care of elephants is expensive; and some cities have laws banning elephant performances.
Kenneth Feld, the president of Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, explained that successful businesses change and adapt to changing markets and changing tastes. He emphatically proclaimed that Ringling Brothers was NOT reacting to decades of protest. As reported by AP, he explained, “We’re not reacting to our critics; we’re creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant.”
Yeah, well the protests affected the markets, the laws, and the costs.
PETA’s president Ingrid Newkirk claimed credit, without offering even a hint of conciliation. “For 35 years PETA has protested Ringling Bros.’ cruelty to elephants,” she said, “We know extreme abuse to these majestic animals occurs every single day, so if Ringling is really telling the truth about ending this horror, it will be a day to pop the champagne corks, and rejoice. … If the decision is serious, then the circus needs to do it NOW.”
SeaWorld is living the same story. Protested and pilloried by critics who focus on the cruelty inherent in capturing, holding, and training killer whales, SeaWorld has endured bad press, a falling stock price, and declining attendance. Blackfish, a powerful documentary, crystallized the charges of animal cruelty. Last year, SeaWorld announced its plan to build bigger pens for the orcas. This year the company announced a search for new corporate leadership. And surely the public relations nightmare that Shamu has become will be one of the new CEO’s challenges.
Changing the world, even a little piece of it, takes a long time. And it’s never just one thing. But activist efforts can play a critical role in changing the conditions in which governments and businesses make decisions.