Circus elephants out to pasture...

Staff Writer
Glen Rose Reporter
Dr. Don Newbury The Idle American

There’s a certain irony concerning the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus owners’ bombshell announcement. It began news rounds as a brief piece, seemingly no more than an afterthought. Effective in 2018, there’ll be no elephants under the “big top,” or in any other RBB&B venue.

The impact of “no more circus elephants” grew by the hour, becoming a lead story before day’s end. Conversations of “elephant-less” circuses blanketed the nation. On one of winter’s coldest days — when thousands of motorists and truckers were victims of iced-over roads — elephants would have been in high demand to pull them free.

Circus owners claim they’re weary of complaints about animal treatment and local ordinances which make it cumbersome for booking venues. They also sense a national mood favoring animal rights. Plus, they likely are tired of “elephant maintenance,” with annual costs of $65,000 per pachyderm...


It’s hard to imagine circuses without the lumbering grey animals. Before coliseums, they did the “grunt work,” hoisting the poles to support the “big top.” Alas, the really big tents are rare these days, as are the ever-dwindling elephant acts that once commanded center-ring attention.

Memorable are their “trunk-to-tail” linkage as the gigantic animals led downtown circus parades.

And who can ever forget millions of dads hoisting youngsters on their shoulders for better looks?...


An aside is an oft-repeated yarn. A dozen elephants led a circus parade. The lead elephant was struck by an 18-wheeler; lawsuits began.

The circus owner wanted a sum several times larger than the cost of replacing a single elephant. “Why so much?” grumbled the trucker.

“We’re talking about more than replacing an elephant,” the owner countered, “It costs a lot to re-attach the tails on 10 others.”...


Back in the real world, this triumph for elephants is worthy of their loudest trumpeting. The 13 elephants still performing will be put “out to pasture” at the circus’ 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida with 29 “retirees” already there.

Thus the herd in 2018 could total 42. That’s believed to be almost exactly the number Carthaginian hero Hannibal utilized during his heralded wintry crossing of the Alps in 218 BC. The span between Hannibal’s feat and RBB&B’s “phase-out” date is 2,236 years!

The Alps’ crossing – with numerous deadly battles waged during the ravages of winter — took the lives of thousands of soldiers, horses and most of the elephants. In fact, some accounts say the only surviving pachyderm was the one Hannibal rode in on. And no comfortable haven awaited him or his elephant...


P. T. Barnum – and his “Greatest Show on Earth” – could only dream of the impact his shows would have on Americans when he imported the first Asian elephant in 1870. Soon the pachyderm was the symbol of his traveling menagerie.

Tigers, dogs and goats are still performing, and a Mongolian troupe of camel stunt riders joined the circus this year. Audiences are told to expect more motorsports, daredevils and feats of human derring-do in the future.

There’s no mention of whether performers will continue to be fired from cannons. Expected to continue, though, is the probability of a sucker’s “birth every minute,” a quote often attributed to Barnum, but it actually is a critic’s quote said of him...


Meanwhile, life goes on. At Dallas’ Love Field, drug-sniffing dogs are being re-trained. Their “sniffers” are out of sync. Dogs now are “over-alerting” authorities to explosives and non-explosives alike. That is, they can detect grenades, but they might also bark at bags of pop rocks.

Elected officials on both sides of the aisle are wrangling about sensitive official emails skittering through cyberspace from individual accounts. Tons of news items are tension-fraught. On a lighter note, Republicans may be whimpering about replacing the elephant as their symbol of choice.

Parades and much else are diminishing. Life – ever more complicated – remains a circus...


Maybe parades could be added at the Florida elephant preserve.

What a rare treat for children who could manage to get there. Key to this might be for children to do the “parading,” with elephants stationed along the way. The kids could see the elephants, and the elephants could see them.

Call it a “virtual parade.”...

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Archived at