Ringling Bros. to Gavin Polone: Animal Cruelty Claims 'Just Wrong'

Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey - P 2012

Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey - P 2012

Spokesman Stephen Payne says a guest column claiming the circus mistreats its elephants is false: "Our animals get better medical care than I do."

Editor's note: Read Gavin Polone's guest column here.

I was surprised to read the false claims Gavin Polone made about Ringling Bros. and our treatment of animals.

His reliance on a quote from animal rights activists taken out of context was upsetting and insulting to the people who spend their lives caring for these animals. He quotes an attorney for The Humane Society of the United States and leaves out that it and its allied groups just paid us $15 million to settle a lawsuit we filed against them for untrue claims that we mistreat elephants.

Our animals get better medical care than I do.

We have an on-call vet in every city we visit, and our own veterinary staff has more than a century of combined experience caring for elephants. Our elephants are overseen by a veterinarian and a veterinary technician who travel with the circus, or an on-call veterinarian in the cities we visit. 

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Statements that we train by abuse is just rhetoric. Our people don't spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with animals they don't like. Some of these people have worked with animals for multiple generations. For them it's not a job. It's a calling.

They will tell you the elephants come first, their families come second, and they come a distant third.

Contrary to Polone's claims, we take great care when traveling to bring these magnificent ambassadors of their species to people all over the country. Our elephants travel in custom-built railcars, which are climate controlled and video monitored. There is someone riding in the railroad car with them at all times to watch over them, making sure they have enough food and water. Like a family going on a road trip, we stop regularly so they can stretch their legs, and we clean up after them.

Polone also makes claims about the animals displaying unnatural behaviors. This is just wrong. Everything you see in the show elephants do naturally. Yes, elephants stand on their hind legs. Yes, elephants sit on each other. Yes, elephants balance on logs.

You can't make 8,000 pounds do something 8,000 pounds doesn't want to do. Our elephants spend 24/7 with the people who care for them and are completely comfortable with our people and the tools we use.

We are the No. 1 proponent of animal welfare, not just for our herd at Ringing Bros., but throughout the world. There are only 35,000 Asian elephants left, and we work on saving the species from extinction every single day. We have research scientists working at the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation to prevent and cure elephant diseases.

We also work with the island nation of Sri Lanka, helping fund an orphanage for elephants. A portion of every single ticket sold to Ringling Bros. goes to help these elephants in Sri Lanka, which has one of the highest elephant population densities in the world.

Ringling Bros. shows are one of the few places people around the country have the opportunity to see these animals up close and in person. We are very proud of our animals, our animal care and our commitment to showing them around the country.

Stephen Payne is vp corporate communications at Feld Entertainment, which produces Ringling Bros.' shows.