The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's circus is coming to town, and for the first time in more than 70 years, there's going to be a grand circus parade. All the clowns, the acrobats, the gymnasts, and the sideshow stars will wind their way from Reunion Arena through downtown, then back again. There will be horses, old-fashioned circus wagons, tigers, fire trucks, marching bands, trick-performing dogs, classic cars, and elephants.
Oh, yes -- there will be elephants, doing their baby and mama and papa elephant walk through downtown. And then, at the circus, the elephants will do tricks in the three rings. They'll play harmonica, ride tricycles, and stand on barrels. They won't just be standing around eating hay and throwing dirt, like all those elephants at the zoo. Nope, kiddies -- these are special elephants, and they even know how to play basketball. Well, shoot hoops, anyway, which is better than the NBA team they got down at Reunion.
Look, everyone loves a circus -- or some of us, anyway. Me, I'm a little frightened of clowns, but that's only because of Stephen King's It and John Wayne Gacy. That, and because they're clowns. And as it turns out, there are actually folks out there protesting the circus; a friend recently passed on a sticker that reads, "I'm an ele-friend. I don't go to the circus." This pal is very animal-friendly: She is, of course, a vegetarian, which for her means existing almost solely on Snickers candy bars and Mountain Dew -- though she does wear leather. Hey, someone has to use the rest of the cow.
But she is not alone in this three-ring hatred. She and some other people think that animals, especially elephants, are abused in the circus. They say the elephants are confined in small cages, injured during abusive training sessions, and don't have access to food and water. They also say it is not natural for elephants to ride bicycles or stand on their heads on barrels.
Maybe that's because they don't have adequate education and access to recreation materials in the wild; surely Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey could use this defense. Instead, they founded the Center for Elephant Conservation to prove that they're not ele-enemies. Since 1997, nine Asian elephants have been born at the center, which boasts the most varied gene pool outside of Asia. The center wants to help the elephants survive and learn to live and work with people, with emphasis on work. Two of the center's elephants will perform in Dallas.
With the center, Ringling Bros. both counters the abuse attacks and keeps the circus herds fresh. On the surface, the circus sounds like a fine setup for the elephants: They do a few tricks and get rewarded. Nikolai the Iron Jaw drags them around by a rope held in his teeth. They hang out with pretty gymnast girls and sideshow folks such as Khan the World's Tallest Man, Michu the World's Smallest Man, Vesuvius the Human Volcano, and Marina the Lady in the Cube. Maybe someone should start a protest campaign against freak exploitation. Or for the Ayala sisters, who do acrobatics while suspended by their hair.
Deep down, we'd like to think the circus is a good life for elephants. No predators chase them around, using the herd as a buffet. No poachers kill them. No National Geographic film crew follows them around all day. Still, the circus is not as swell a gig as the zoo. Those elephants don't even have to work for their peanuts.