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15 April 2001 Issue
Remembrances of a Circus

by Donna Anderson
AnimalConcerns.org (formerly Animal Rights Resource Site)

For two weeks, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was in town ...and what hard weeks they were. Leaflets by the thousands were handed out, urging to make this circus the last until animals are banned from its entertainment, banned from its abuses. I completely agree.

I don't know how many times I went to leaflet or how many hours I stood in front of the Philadelphia Spectrum, but the experience will be something I'll never forget. The tears still pour when I think about the elephants in their chains, the horses not being able to reach the hay on the ground, and the basic fact that they did not belong there. To heal my grief, I thought of them in wide open plains, grazing, just enjoying life. It didn't help much, for every time I walked around to see the animals, I saw Conga, a large, worn elephant in massive chains. Those were the times my heart broke into pieces...pieces that I'll never be able to repair.

Whether this elephant was a male or a female, I'll never know, but I saw him and how violently he rocked, through an opened section of the tent. His chains rattled with even the most subtle movement he made, reminding both him, and I, of their presence.

Every day I went to leaflet, I checked on him, knelt on the grassy sidewalk and strained to see under the heavy canvas that hid him from all eyes. And every time, my heart broke more. The thought of him filled my dreams, as well as my waking hours. His rocking (according to a spokesperson for Ringling Bros. was to keep his blood flowing) replayed in my mind, battling what little strength I had left. How could I tell him I was there for him, that I felt the gloom of his life?

The last day, the final show, of the circus was the hardest for me and all of the protesters who came to photograph, videotape, and just observe. The tents were down, packed away in the freight train waiting to roll to a different city. And there was Conga, the sorrow in his dull eyes staring back at me through the chain-linked fence. He seemed old, his skin badly cracked, his movements slow. Most of his time was spent separated from the other elephants, except for the ten or fifteen minutes he was away at the show, leading the others in the opening act. I watched as he struggled to reach for a carrot lying in his own urine (probably the first he had been given in a long time) and cringed as he stretched his chains so tight to snuggle with another elephant that I thought he would either rip the hook from the cement, or tear his leg off.

That was a long day and I still feel worn from its happenings. At times, I felt as one of the animals being watched, though my watchers were the circus workers, sure I, or one of the others, would do something drastic. No one did. We all stood silently and documented any abuse our eyes fell upon, and to our eyes we saw all...a young elephant with its trunk badly scarred by an elephant hook, another rolling on the hard cement as water was given (the closest to a mud bath he had ever gotten), and the battle from all of them to move further than their short chains would allow.

Night fell and all left, except myself and two others. We rode around the stadium a few times, not sure if we were really ready to go home, not sure what we could do if we weren't. The last time we neared the animals, all of the elephants were gone... they were getting ready to walk (in chains) the tenth of a mile to the waiting freight trains. Our cameras readied, we stood in the street as the first two elephants passed, our eyes wet with tears. Then I realized, "They're not in chains!" Needless to say, everyone looked when they heard us cheering our hearts out. And never before had the tears flowed as rapidly, so happily. So, for the small one-tenth of a mile, all of the animals felt a hint of freedom for only the second time since they've been coming to Philadelphia. (There was only one other time they did not
carry the burden of chains as they walked from the train to the stadium) And there...behind the line of elephants was Conga, stumbling in his steps, not sure how to walk without the chains he had grown so accustomed to.

Perhaps our presence was the cause, or perhaps it was the presence of the horrified circus patrons who finally believed what they had read in the leaflets. It didn't matter...Ringling had surrendered for that small one-tenth of a mile walk of freedom.

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