When the Kelly Miller Circus came to Bearcat Park in Aledo Saturday, a 33-year-old African elephant named Anna Louise may have been in the spotlight for more than just her dancing act.
Less than two weeks ago, the parent company of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey announced it would halt the use of Asian elephants in its traveling circus performances by 2018, relocating the 13 elephants that are currently performing to the Ringling Brothers Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.
Tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels will continue to be featured in circus performances.
The landmark decision — elephants have been a symbol of the Greatest Show On Earth® for 145 years — is a response to “shifting consumer preferences,” according to the March 5 press release.
One factor in that change may be the increasingly public debate between circuses and animal rights organizations as to whether circus animals, especially elephants, are being treated humanely.
Rebecca Ostroff is the ringmaster of the Kelly Miller Circus, which stopped in Aledo Saturday. She and other circus professionals maintain that elephants like Anna Louise are treated like family, while the Humane Society of the United States believes wild animals suffer in the course of producing an event that seems like good family fun.
In recent years, some cities and counties have passed anti-circus and anti-elephant ordinances.
The city councils of two major cities — Los Angeles and Oakland — weighed in during 2013 and 2014, passing laws that ban the use of the bullhook — a common sharp-ended tool used for controlling and training elephants.
The city council of Richmond, Virginia was considering a similar ordinance when Ringling Brothers announced its decision to phase out performing elephants.
“What’s happening in the Ringling Brothers Circus in the next three years makes me really sad,” Ostroff reflected. “If a giant show like Ringling has decided that fighting people and city hall over those laws takes so much energy ... ”
A “select few animal terrorists” are to blame, said Ostroff, who began work with the circus in 1986.
“I’ve never seen animal cruelty in the circus,” she said, “but I have in towns, where people chain up their dogs.
“When people live and work with animals, it’s their passion, it’s more than a job.”
The Humane Society website states that, “Wild animals used in circus acts are routinely beaten, poked and shocked with electric prods, all to force them to perform unnatural tricks.”
According to Ostroff, however, the training process uses positive reinforcements, like protein snacks.
“A bullhook is used as a leash or a guide to direct an animal,” she said.
Kelly Miller Circus is leasing Anna Louise, who turns in circles and shakes her head during her performances, for the season, Ostroff said.
The 8.5-foot tall, 7,000-pound pachyderm has lived with the same human family for 30 years, she said, and three people care for her all day long.
Anna Louise eats 50 pounds of high-protein grains and three bales of hay daily, Ostroff said, and travels from place to place in a climate controlled semi.
“She’s the biggest diva on the show,” she said.
According to national news reports, protestors in Richmond, Virginia demonstrated before a Ringling Brothers debut performance Wednesday.
The group, Richmond Friends of Animals, advocated that elephants be retired now, instead of waiting until 2018. They also asked that the circus retire all its performing animals.
The City of Aledo has hosted a small traveling circus for the last few years, with proceeds supporting the Aledo 4H Club.
Aledo Mayor Kit Marshall advertised the event on the city’s Blackboard Connect system Thursday evening.