The Tail End of the Tale: Thoughts on the Departure of the Ringling Elephants


May 1st has always been a holiday of sorts for the circus community. Years ago, for many circuses, May 1st would mark the first day of a new season. It’s a sort of a beginning. It’s a fresh slate and a time to creatively speaking, start anew. Today is Sunday, May 1st, 2016. Just like May firsts in the past, today marks a new beginning. New beginnings, however, always bring change with them. It is change, after all, that makes it “new.” Today the change is historic, as this evening marks the very last time that you will be able to see elephants perform in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Feld Entertainment, the parent company that owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, announced to the public on March 5, 2015 that by 2018 all elephants would be phased out of their circuses and moved to their 200 acre facility, the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida.


I found the news upsetting, but I was not shocked by it. It costs about one million dollars a year to care for an elephant in a single location, and even more when you are moving it around the country. On top of that, more and more states have recently passed laws prohibiting exotic animal displays, making it a legal fiasco for Ringling to tour in certain parts of the U.S. It should be noted, that many of these laws were passed as a result of pressure from extremist animal “rights” groups who were force fed incorrect, skewed information about animal care and verbalized these supposed “facts” to the public (I will not take any additional time to talk about the hypocrisy of animal rights groups and how they are not actually looking out for or protecting animals. I strongly encourage you to do some of your own research into the topic. I promise you, you will be genuinely shocked and terrified.). It is also rumored that The Walt Disney Company will soon be acquiring Feld Entertainment, and Disney was pressuring for the elephants’ removal. Only time will tell. Bottom line, I was upset, but based on the ever emerging signs, I was not surprised.

That being said, I was extremely surprised when Feld Entertainment announced on January 11, 2016 that the elephants would be retiring to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation by May 2016. What was the reason behind the date change? How will this change the shows that are still scheduled to perform after May? These questions rushed through my head at a rapid pace, along with a sudden wave of emotion.

In September 2015, I was offered a contract to attend Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College and then join Clown Alley on the traveling Blue or Red Unit. I’ve wanted to be a Ringling clown for as long as I can remember, and it truly was a dream come true. Unfortunately, I had to turn down the contract because I received a very large merit scholarship to attend Hofstra University Honors College for a degree in mechanical engineering, and the fine print of the scholarship prevented me from deferring. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about what life would be like if I went and joined the show, and there is really no immediate way to tell whether or not I made the right decision in the larger scheme of things. Regardless of that decision, I was heartbroken when I realized I would never get to work alongside these amazing creatures.


Looking on the bright side of things, even though I am sad to see the elephants go, I have complete confidence in Feld Entertainment to still keep Ringing Bros. fun, exciting, and entertaining. As upsetting as this occurrence is, I know that there is a legitimate reason behind it and it was carefully planned and calculated for the company and show’s best interest. We should all be excited to see what is in store for us next and eager to see the next edition.

I have a painting done my Mable (Red Unit elephant) that was given to me as a gift from the Built to Amaze Clown Alley a few years ago. The painting is framed and hangs on the wall in my family’s dining room. This painting means more to me now than it did ever before, and every time I see it I will think about the elephants and all of the joy that they brought me, my family, my friends, and hundreds of thousands of others around the country. Ringling Bros. may be elephant-less, but the memories and joy which our pachyderm friends gave us will continue to live on.


– Matthew Lish

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