Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

'Our rampant mistreatment of animals—whether in circuses or for food—is among our greatest failings when it comes to such an awesome responsibility.' (Photo: Rafael Alvarez/flickr/cc)

After Ringling’s Announcement, What’s the Next Elephant in the Room?

Paul Shapiro

Ringling Bros.’ recent announcement that it will eliminate elephants from its acts was a potent illustration of just how far our society has moved toward recognizing and valuing the interests of animals. After more than 130 years of Ringling carting elephants from city to city and making them perform unnatural acts through abusive training techniques, it seems the pachyderms will finally come off the road.

For too long, we’ve ignored the consequences of our actions against the animals with whom we share our planet, and the results have been profoundly regrettable for both them and us. Abusing creatures of course is a disservice to them, yet it also debases us and devalues our own humanity.

But we’d be wise to look beyond the big top. Take food production, for example. Almost all of the nine billion animals we raise for food live on factory farms are subjected to deprivation so severe, we wouldn’t wish it on the most heinous criminal, let alone an animal who’s committed no crime.

Just as we might recoil at the sight of electric prods and bullhooks used on elephants, who among us wouldn’t feel the stirrings of our conscience if we were to walk into a typical egg factory where birds are reduced to mere assembly line production units, locked in cages so small they can’t even spread their wings for their entire lives? Where day-old male chicks—of no use to the egg industry—are casually killed on the first day of their lives, thrown alive into industrial grinders? Or if we were to witness pigs in the pork industry locked in cages barely larger than their own bodies, unable to even turn around for years on end, driven insane by the depraved conditions?

Such callous treatment of farm animals—animals who’ve done nothing to deserve such punishment—is the norm, not the exception in the meat and egg industries. And it’s time that we stop allowing such abuse.

We stand alone as the most powerful species on the planet. Yet our rampant mistreatment of animals—whether in circuses or for food—is among our greatest failings when it comes to such an awesome responsibility.

As a society, we’re beginning to take our responsibility to our fellow creatures more seriously. We’re starting to recognize that simply because we can subjugate animals in the most extreme ways doesn’t mean that we should.

Gandhi said that a nation’s moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals—the most powerless group in society. The historic and precedent-setting announcement about elephants this past week indeed serves as a true marker of our social progress, and it should encourage us to continue moving toward a more humane society. When examined in the light of how we treat the animals we raise for food, we’ve still got a very long way to go.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Paul Shapiro

Paul Shapiro is the vice president of farm animal protection at The Humane Society of the United States. Follow him at @pshapiro.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Democrats Urged to 'Ignore' Parliamentarian's Advice Against Path to Citizenship

"Ignore this ruling or get a new one. The GOP didn't hesitate when they pushed their corporate agenda."

Jake Johnson ·


Sanders, Top Dems Optimistic Party Will 'Come Together' for Reconciliation Package

However, House leaders warn they may miss a September 27 deadline to consider Senate-approved infrastructure legislation that progressives will only support alongside a $3.5 trillion bill.

Jessica Corbett ·


Report on Revolving Door and Tax Policy Sparks Calls for Federal Probe and Reforms

"This is an example of terrible management in the Treasury Department across multiple administrations."

Jessica Corbett ·


Nabisco Strike Ends After Union Members Approve New Contract

"Congratulations to these brave workers on their wins," said one labor writer. "May their determination and grit be an inspiration for workers everywhere."

Jessica Corbett ·


'I Had a Duty of Care': Doctor Praised for Violating Texas' New Abortion Ban

"I hope the law gets overturned," Dr. Alan Braid said, "and if this is what does it, that would be great."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo