Thursday, March 05, 2015 

A few quick comments on decision by Feld Entertainment to phase out elephants over the next few season RBBB shows. It's not the end of the world for traditional circus. Astley would certain remind us that the circus ring is the ideal circumference for an equestrian act. Barnum said that the center poles of a circus were elephants and clowns, but James Bailey knew better. Of course elephants and circus have been synonymous for nearly 150 years and they will be missed on the Feld shows (assuming overwhelming public outcry doesn't prompt Feld to reconsider) however elephants are disappearing entirely from every circus... at least not yet. Is this a big win for Animal Rights groups? It's a win but it isn't a knockout. From the beginning of this battle twenty plus years ago circus fans and some circuses (not...I should stress...the Feld shows) have repeated erred in thinking that this was a Left/Right political issue with "Liberals" opposing animals acts while "Conservatives" endorsed them. In reality the philosophy behind both Animal Rights and extremist environmentalism has cut across the Left/Right axis. David Foreman the founder of Earth First was a Nixon Republican. The first serious Congressional legislation proposed to take elephants off the road, the Farr Bill was proposed by a California Democrat and cosponsored by an Alaska Conservative. Fighting AR activists by trying to frame the argument in political terms doesn't work. It's a philosophical debate. As the activists rightly see it, its a market debate. Deprive shows of markets and you win. The activists don't have to convince significant numbers of voters, only a handful of local elected officials for whom it's a "safe" vote. It's hard for pro-circus voices to be heard if they show up ready to fight the wrong war. Are cats next? Almost certainly. Broad bans written to exclude all exotic animals of course cover cats as well as elephants. In places where narrower elephant restrictions are in place, cat restrictions come next. That said, the economics of cat acts are far different. At least in theory, absent Federal legislation cat acts can afford to play smaller less restricted markets and there's still a chance to fight local legislation. Where cat acts fall under "exotics" bans defining exotics becomes an issue. Broadly defining exotics creates grounds for court challenges while narrowly defining exotics leaves wiggle room for "native" species. Dog acts, horse acts, barnyard acts, even camels aren't going away. In the US consumers spend many billions of dollars every year to pamper their "pets." Taking away ligers is one thing, taking away llamas is quite another. That doesn't mean that activists won't try -- but it isn't a battle they can win for another couple generations. Opinions shift and cultures change. Insofar as Animals Rights debates go, demographics may ultimately overwhelm all other arguments. The AR debate is driven by mostly white, mostly middle class activists influencing similar politicians. A generation from now the face of America won't look the same. Want animals on a circus thirty years from now? Don't try to convince 20 year olds, convince children born tomorrow or next week. If activists scored some kind of "win" today the biggest losers may be elephants. Habitats continue to disappear in Asia and activists are vocal in proclaiming the ridiculous notion that extinction is better than captive management. Just as Polar Bears are highly charismatic totems for the climate change debate, elephants should be the totem for the survival of megafauna. As more than a few zoos give up elephants, the last best place to see living, breathing pachyderms has been the circus. Take that away and fewer and fewer people care about their ultimate survival. In better world we would be offered tradeoffs. No elephants on the road...but permits granted to zoos and breeding programs to import asian elephants and better management species survival and bloodlines. Absent that tradeoff elephants lose, circus loses, children lose and ironically at the end of the road AR loses to. What will AR do when they successfully kill off entire species? The particular Hell for that sin won't be a pleasant one. Maybe we'll get lucky and Rand Paul will fix it all... In the meantime..."Hold your horses, here come the elephants!" Don't miss them before their echoes fade away.