Visions of daring acrobats, clowns, dancers and elephant acts are what many associate with circuses, but the Carson and Barnes Circuc, which is currently in Texoma, is considering dropping one of the acts that has become synonymous with the business.
As a part of the promotional material for its stop in Sherman-Denison this weekend, Carson and Barnes hinted it may be ceasing its elephant acts as part of its traveling show. During an interview Friday, a representative from the show confirmed the circus has considered ending the use of elephants.
“Elephants will be invading Sherman-Denison, Tx for what could be the very last time,” a press release issued by the circus said. “Three Asian elephants will be stopping in your area for a special visit. … Elephants have always been a part of the magic and wonder presented by circuses in the past, but the tradition could be just a faded memory in the near future.”
The Carson and Barnes Circus stopped at Midway Mall Friday for three days of shows. Its final shows of this stop, its 81st tour, will be Sunday at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. The circus will be performing its “Circus-saurus” show, featuring dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, cave men and a giant hatching dinosaur egg.
During the stop in Sherman, Ringmaster Erik Bautista said the circus has talked about dropping its elephant acts, but has not made an official decision as of yet. With the press release, he said he thinks officials are preparing themselves for the day the circus will no longer feature the large animals.
“It is sad, but it is something that is happening,” Bautista said. “I am privileged to be able to announce that elephants are entering the ring each show.”
The Asian Elephant, which is native to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, is currently listed as an endangered species. The Smithsonian National Zoo said on its website that the species, due to its size, is vulnerable to habitat disruption and destruction, and is considered a pest in some areas. Currently, there are estimated to be between 37,000 and 57,000 Asian elephants alive.
Bautista said several states have recently passed laws that prohibit the transport of exotic animals, which has limited some of the states the circus can enter to do business. However, its prime territories of Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico are still free of such laws, he said.
In addition to those laws, Bautista said groups like PETA have recently started public campaigns against the use of animals in circuses. In 2015, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that it would cease using elephants in its acts. Ultimately, that circus ceased touring in 2017 following declining ticket sales and high operating costs.
In an article published by PETA entitled, “12 Things Ringling Doesn't Want You to Know” the animal advocacy group lists the use of chains, billhooks and other training methods in its opposition to the use of elephants in the circus. Other points of opposition cited by the group include the conditions animals are transported in and a lack of oversight in training.
Bautista said the USDA performs random inspections on Carson and Barnes' practices, and its animals are given frequent veterinary check ups. Additionally, the animals are well fed and groomed daily as part of the show at its stops.
“The circus is an American tradition,” Bautista said. “They will never fully get rid of it, no matter how much people try.”