Does Ringling Bros Really Hurt Elephants?

PETA is on campus this week, and as I was walking to lunch I saw a cute company van featuring an elephant painted across the visible surface. On the passenger side was the slogan, “RINGLING BEATS ELEPHANTS.”

Ringling Beats Elephants - PETA van

My immediate reaction was, “how else would you control a 5 ton beast?” which is, of course, an insensitive joke; however, the reasoning stands. Elephants are too dangerous to roam freely around people. The much smaller, notoriously docile bovine don’t even wander without restraints (fences, cages, leashes, etc.). Wild animals must be approached cautiously and humanely controlled.

So, with no more than three words and my own imagination I believe PETA’s complaint is either excessive violence or the larger idea that elephants should not be caged at all. As I just said, a certain level of “violence” is necessary to protect circus patrons. I can understand people being upsetĀ  excess violence. I cannot understand the idea that elephants should not be caged because that implies they should never be transported out of the wild.

Thinking about it further, I’m not sure I understand the controversy. I personally believe that elephants are wonderful, peaceful creatures. This opinion was formed, largely, by favorable depictions from the circus. My respect for the animal helps reinforce my distaste for ivory or anything that would harm the graceful giants. Ringling has helped many people appreciate pachyderms! I don’t endorse beating elephants, but doesn’t the circus create a net positive? Ringling Bros may hurt elephants in the short term, but they have helped elephants in the long term. Wouldn’t the effort be better spent stopping people that are killing elephants (e.g., poachers)?

Do you agree? Am I missing something?