Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is It Time to Early Retire Circus Elephants? ... My Face to Face with PETA

"As with the horses, the elephants don’t need to be oversold with gimmicks.  Just walking into the rings and marching, stopping and turning to command would be enough”

            From the book Circus Mania, by Douglas McPherson

After taking in a performance of Built to Amaze at Ringling Bros. last week, on my way out of the arena I had a rare face to face encounter with a PETA person, a woman hoping to snare my attention.  I normally pass them with disdain, tired of their rants, their fliers and signs, wishing they would go away.  Closing down my mind. 

Because I was so charmed by the elephant production number at Built to Amaze, I paused to announce to the woman, “Those elephants were absolutely delightful!” I said it with a tone of affirmative defiance. She looked at me, somewhat startled, speechless, her face a taut white blank sheet.  Brazenly, I repeated my assertion, a mode of communication on my part that I would come to question, even regret.

How crass of me, I thought, to lump all animal rights activists as loonies or extremists.  Yes, some engage in pure fraud.  Others are surely well meaning. One of my best friends shares their views.

In drafting a review of the show, this I wrote, at first:

"A joyful elephant romp, with perky pachyderms sharing spotlights with leaping acrobats, dancers finely integrated, and a marvelous stream of music far from the maddening discotheque So high was I on this pacyhermic high point, that on my way out I shouted to a PETA person, 'Those elephants were absolutely delightful!' She starred back at me in stark silent disbelief.'  I walked on, guilt free, remembering the very large man in street clothes leading the elephants around and about, smiling proudly to the audience.  A nice warm circusy moment. 

The closer I got to posting my notice, the more I questioned the text shown above in bold.

Now,  step back with me by one or three Lane Talburt YouTubes.  I am on his mailing list.and so he sent me a link to his latest, a look at the elephants of Cole Bros. Circus getting pedicures.  Very charming, as warm and slick and adoring as the features you’d see in the movie house in the1950s, each addressing some pleasant aspect of life in America, in color, wrapped up in ribbons and bows.  In the affirmative, Lane is a talented photojournalist.  He gets thousands of hits on his YouTubes.

But ... while watching the video, the name Tim Frisco surfaced.  Frisco, I wondered.  I’ve heard of him.  Carson and Barnes trainer?    The name vaguely suggested something bad in a You Tube, and I wondered if he had changed his ways since way back when.  Because of Tim Frisco being lionized, I did not feel good about posting a link to this particular video, or the others that followed, one in conjunction with the Circus Fans Association of America, in effect treating Frisco as a poster boy for elephant preservation -- there is nothing about any circus  the CFA views that it does no like.  Their motto, "We fight any;ting that fights the circus.

Perhaps they will take on my blog.

I decided to revisit the dreaded Carson & Barnes YouTube, surely the most damning evidence out there of indisputable animal abuse  In fact, I had forgotten how truly awful it is.

In a word, HORRIFYING   After a few minutes, I could not watch  it any longer.  Perhaps somebody can tell me if I was watching a fantasy film produced by a dementedly biased animal rights organization?

Then, I turnedtto another well-known YouTube, the one, from three years ago, in which visual evidence of apparent abuse to the elephants backstage at Ringling has yet to be explained away by Feld Entertainment, claiming it was misleadingly edited.  Or have I perchance missed a press release?  It is no where near as bad as the Carson & Barnes one, but it lends the impression that abuse many continue apace.  There is an ominous thread here that generates an impression of traditional techniques for keeping wild animals in check.

What I have to say will make this too long a posting, so I shall continue in a future post,  asking the circus community if they might answer some serious questions I have.

One of them in advance, cutting to the chase, is this:  We have clear evidence of  barbaric abuse to circus elephants  as they are being broken in and/or trained to perform circus tricks.  Have we, for the other side, equally clear and persuasive evidence of elephants being taught the same tricks in a humane non abusive manner?

Now, there is a YouTube I would like to see.  

To be continued.


Douglas McPherson said...

A good post and a great question. Yes, let's see the videos of animals being trained with patience and reward - that is how they're trained, isn't it?

Douglas McPherson said...

Further to my last comment, I've just had a trawl on YouTube and found some videos of humane training. For an antidote to the Carson and Barnes video google Circus Lion Training Video Diary by Thomas Chipperfield. (several epidodes). As Chipperfield says, "Just watch and make up your own mind."

Showbiz David said...

Thanks, Douglas. I will take a look at the Chpperfield videos.

Why did it take me this long to merely wonder, what about filmed evidence for the defense? I wish the CFA would push for film footage to make their case. That, indeed, were it possible, would serve as a tremendous antidote, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Being there, first hand in big cat and elephant training, I can tell you that hockey sticks play a part in some lion/tiger training. Reward use is minimal.
As for elephants you simply can not, can not, expect results with rewards. The bull hook reigns supreme.
And there is a reason it is sharp.
Have you ever seen a elephant handler without one?

Showbiz David said...

Thanks. Unfortunately, you sound credible to me.