Ringling Brothers show goes on without elephants, but animal activists say it isn't enough

The Greatest Show on Earth is in Austin, and for the first time without one of their most popular attractions.

Ryan Henning has been with Ringling Brothers for more than 10 years and is their Assistant Animal Superintendent “It was bitter sweet, bitter in the sense that after 145 years of having elephants in the circus they are no longer part of our traveling shows, sweet in the sense that at the end of the day people can still learn about our Asian Elephants,” he said.

This comes a year after the Austin City Council passed an ordinance to ban the use of bull hooks on elephants, the primary tool used for training them. Something animal activists said is a step in the right direction.  

“Times have changed people are no longer accepting of exotic animals, particularly elephants in captivity and being forced to perform,” said Ernest Samudio, Action for Animals Austin. 

The elephants were retired from the traveling circus and taken to their permanent home at the Ringling's Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.  But Samudio said that isn’t enough “Even though the elephants may be gone, there are still animals in the circus that are being forced to perform, they're being treated, they're being trained with cruel devices,” he said.

Henning said you will still see animals in the show that is playing in Austin through the weekend. 

“We still continue to have a variety of domestic and exotic animals on the show. From goats to ponies, miniature donkeys to horses, camels, zebras, dogs, snakes.” He said the animals are very well taken care of. “They travel actually really comfortable. I’d say they travel more comfortable than the artists and managers on our show, but don't tell anybody alright.”

Henning said he would hate to see the day that animals are not in the circus.

“All of our animals are living long healthy happy and safer lives here at the Greatest Show on Earth,” he said. But it’s a day animal activists said they will continue to fight for.  “It's an outdated model, they're going to have to, all circuses are going to have to switch to a model that doesn't use any animals at all, we look forward to that day,” Samudio said.