UPDATE: Circus World aims to keep elephants in performances - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Circus World aims to keep elephants in performances

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UPDATE (WKOW) -- Elephants have a long history in the circus that started here in Wisconsin, and Circus World leaders are hoping to keep it that way.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced Thursday it would eliminate its elephant act from performances by 2018, citing a growing public concern over how the animals are treated.

The Ringling Bros. started in Baraboo in the late 1880's, putting on shows with elephants. More than 100 years later, the Circus World Museum continues putting on circus big top shows every season with a rotating cast of performers from all over the world, including elephants.

Executive director Scott O'Donnell says it's the thing visitors ask to see the most when they come to the museum.

"We are very committed to having elephants here with us as long as we are able to do that," O'Donnell tells 27 News. "We feel we have a great facility, a great environment for animals."

O'Donnell says Circus World has an exemplary record keeping animals safe. State and federal inspectors visit the site regularly to make sure staff are following the many guidelines in place when caring for elephants.

Circus World officials do a lot of background work before hiring a new performer to make sure they're properly caring for and training elephants.

"You look at the animals first and foremost, how are the animals in appearance, how are their feet, how is their grooming, do they look like they're well-fed," says long-time ringmaster and performance director Dave SaLoutos. "You can kind of tell a happy elephant from one that is not so happy."

Animal advocates, on the other hand, believe keeping any wild creature in captivity and training them is cruel.

"The way that these animals are trained is not by bribing them with peanuts or anything, the way that you train your dog, because they're wild animals, they can't be trained unless they're made afraid of something, unless they're harmed and they're hurt," says Hannah West, with Alliance for Animals and the Environment.

West tells 27 News she was amazed to see Ringling Bros. make the decision and she says it sends the right message that animal acts are not acceptable entertainment.

West's group helped push Dane County's Board of Supervisors to keep elephants out of circus acts in the area. In 2012, the board banned elephant performances in county buildings. Zor Shrine Circus performs every year at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. The Shriners have a contract with the county through 2020 that allows the circus to keep the elephant act until then.


BARABOO (WKOW) -- Circus World in Baraboo plans to keep elephants as a main attraction as long as possible, according to the museum's executive director.

This comes as The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced it will eliminate its elephant act from performances by 2018. The Ringling Bros. started in Baraboo in 1884 and elephants have been the symbol of the circus.

Scott O'Donnell, executive director at Circus World Museum, tells 27 News the elephants draw a lot of attention and are the number one topic of questions when visitors call.

Tonight on 27 News at 5 & 6, we'll hear how the museum makes sure its performers are properly caring for animal acts in Baraboo.

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