Russ Kent: I’m not applauding circus’ closure

web1_Russ-Kent-new-mug.jpgBy now, you’ve heard that Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus plans to shut down in May, after 146 years of shows and touring. Millions of people have been entertained by the greatest show on earth … the clowns, acrobats, feats of strength, and yes, even the animal acts.

It’s sad to see another part of my youth disappear.

A group called Animal Defenders International welcomed the announcement by Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, in which the circus owners cited declines in ticket sales, after earlier announcing a ‘mood shift’ among their consumers.

In a news release the ADI states: “After decades of exposing the cramped, barren conditions with long periods of time tied up and chained with no freedom of movement and a brutal training culture, ADI believes that public opinion has ended the suffering.

“Modern audiences now have many entertainment options and do not want to see shows where animals are made to suffer for a few minutes of entertainment.”

“After decades of exposing the suffering of animals in circuses behind the scenes, we are pleased to hear that Ringlings has finally bowed to public opinion — it was a mistake for them not to see the trend away from animal shows to human — only performances over a decade ago. Circuses can survive without the animal performances,” said Jan Creamer, the president of the group.

My feelings are not that black and white.

A flat-out condemnation of Ringling Bros, is not something I wish to be a part of.

Nor do I detest those who call for the end of animal mistreatment.

If not for the circus and zoos and marine parks, many endangered species would already be extinct.

If not for the circus, children of my age would not have experienced the regal beauty of lions and tigers, the antic and hilarious play of monkeys and chimps, nor the intimidating, yet gentle presence of elephants.

If not for the circus and zoos and marine parks, orcas, gorillas, Siberian tigers and more would already be gone … for good. It was these types of venues that brought attention to their plight.

When I was 7, maybe 8 years old, I flew to California with my Grandma and Grandpa Bowman. We visited Los Angeles, the beaches of San Diego, Knott’s Berry Farm, Disneyland, Marine Land and the San Diego Zoo. Those may not have been my first “zoo” experiences, but they were, perhaps, the most memorable.

I enjoyed that trip. It affected the rest of my life.

My love of animals started on that trip to California.

Since then, I have been to Sea World in Florida and Ohio. I’ve been to zoos too numerous to count: Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Indianapolis, Houston, Akron, Detroit (not sure it was in Detroit, but in that area), Busch Gardens in Florida and Williamsburg, Virginia, Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, and smaller “zoos” and animal parks that included Gatorland, petting zoos in many places, and aquariums in Myrtle Beach, Oglebay, West Virginia, and Cleveland.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few.

And I have not an ounce of guilt about my zoo, aquarium and marine park visits.

Those types of legitimate establishments have done a great service in educating visitors.

I’m not going to quit going to such places.

In fact, my bucket list includes more visits. There are aquariums in Bay, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Newport, Kentucky, and Baltimore I wish to visit. If I am in a city with a zoo, I’m going to go.

I don’t know if any of the marine parks have survived, but I’m not willing to condemn them, either. If I find one, I’ll visit it.

When I was growing up, I would not have known about, nor would I have grown to love these animals, if not for places like circuses and zoos and marine parks.

But the world has changed.

These venues are no longer needed to spread the news of the disappearance from earth of these creatures.

Nearly everyone has access to TVs and the internet.

And in the time it takes to wipe your nose after a sneeze, a couple new advocacy are formed and have started promoting their cause on the Internet.

Which isn’t a bad thing, either.

I also refuse to condemn animal advocates.

I understand the anger and outrage of animal rights groups, who have thankfully forced changes.

Responsible zoos are changing the way they house and treat animals.

And that would not have happened if not for advocacy groups.

It may be impossible to strike a balance between being allowed to see animals in a natural environment at a reasonable price, and protecting against mistreatment.

I hope not.

Russ Kent



Russ Kent is editor of the Galion Inquirer. Email him with comments or story ideas at [email protected]