CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: “There is a sea change going on in our culture about animals and we are coming to recognize the profound depth of animal emotion and thinking and suffering,” says Barbara King, anthropology professor at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and author of “How Animals Grieve.”
Recommended: Name that animal! While these recent changes in the treatment of animals for entertainment purposes are due in part to public activism by such advocacy groups as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and others, the growing body of scientific research on animal intelligence has been crucially important, says Professor King. “The science and activism are beginning to come together to support changes,” she says.
King points to such important scientific milestones as the July 2012 Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. An international consortium of scientists affirmed support for the idea that animals are conscious and aware to the same degree as humans. The list includes all mammals, birds, and even the octopus. “This research is beginning to trickle down into the public awareness and driving public outcry,” says King, adding that this includes protests about the treatment of animals in entertainment such as the circus, film, and television, as well as the use of animals for food and clothing.
Societal attitudes towards animals are changing across the board, agrees Sarah Cunningham, a professor in the Captive Wildlife Care and Education program at Unity College in Maine. Ironically, though, she points out that “part of the reason they are changing is because we’ve learned so much about the cognitive abilities and social lives of other species from individuals that we work with and study in captivity.”
Ringling Bros. management noted that change in its explanations for the decision. “There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers,” said Alana Feld, executive vice president for Feld Entertainment, the circus’s parent company, in widely published comments about the decision. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.” Part of the shifting mood is “a growing reluctance to support the cruelty involved in using elephants for entertainment purposes,” says Lori Gruen, professor of philosophy and coordinator of Wesleyan Animal Studies at Wesleyan University in an e-mail. “There is also a growing public aversion to the indignity and coercion of displaying these magnificent, endangered creatures as silly spectacles,” she adds. MORE
RELATED: In this episode, Bart wins a radio contest and is awarded a full-grown African elephant that he names Stampy. After Stampy wrecks the Simpsons’ house and eats all the food, Homer decides to sell Stampy to an ivory dealer. Bart runs away with Stampy to save his pet, but the family finds the two at a museum exhibit, where Homer falls into a tar pit. Homer’s saved by Stampy, and so gives the elephant away to an animal refuge instead. MORE
RELATED: In 1989, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) issued an international ban on the ivory trade. 2013 saw the greatest quantity of ivory confiscated in the last 25 years. The street value of a single tusk is approximately US$15,000. The main market for illegal ivory is China, where a single tusk can fetch $100,000–200,000. Tusks are found in African elephants of both sexes while only in Asian males. An African bull’s tusks can grow to over 11 feet long and weigh 220 pounds. MORE
RELATED: Chopsticks, hair pins, pendants, trinkets: These are why African elephants are dying in droves. In 2013, more than 35,000 elephants across Africa were killed for their ivory, which is often carved and sold as ornaments, jewelry and other gift items. China is a major importer of ivory, where it’s highly prized as a luxury good. Ivory sellers also do a roaring trade in Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and other parts of Asia; and troublingly, demand seems to be rising. “Ivory is beautiful,” long-time ranger and conservationist Rory Young admits. “The problem is, we just can’t do this anymore.” If we don’t stop the slaughter soon, he told The Huffington Post over Skype on Tuesday, not only will there be no more ivory to carve or sell, but no African elephants left on the planet, either. In 2008, conservationists warned that African elephants would become extinct by 2020 if widespread poaching continued. Young says that given the current rate of slaughter, he’s “absolutely convinced” that African elephants could indeed be annihilated in the next six years. MORE
RELATED: Ten Elephants That Made History