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Wildlife Conservation: The World Wildlife Fund and The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey's Circus

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Entertainment and nature are in a constant battle; animals and resources can be used to fuel the entertainment industry, but at the cost of the environment and animals. In circumstances like a circus, animals are often mistreated. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) works to ensure the protection of animals and their habitats. Founded in 1961 in Switzerland, the WWF promotes wildlife conservation and aims to “elevate wildlife’s worth” (Endangered Species Conservation). They prioritize species and habitats in order to focus their projects on significantly impacted animals or areas. These efforts are carried out to “reduce humanity’s impact on nature” (Global Initiatives). On the other hand, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Baileys’ Circus is able to gain profit from training wild animals to perform. The circus includes animals in their act, which is of concern to animal activists. Tigers, elephants, llamas, lions, horses, and goats can all be seen during a full performance (Ringling Brothers). Though the Ringling Brothers train animals for entertainment while the WWF tries to free animals from human actions, the two organizations could come to mutually beneficial compromise.

The WWF was founded during a time of insufficient conservation efforts. Conservation organizations were very short of funds, and the organization was created to help with financial needs. The WWF is trying to protect wildlife, habitats, and resources. Part of their wildlife protection includes preventing animal captivity and mistreatment. In recent years, WWF has focused on advocating for captive whales, tigers, and elephants. All of those animals are used for entertainment purposes (Endangered Species Conservation). The WWF is fighting the capture of Asian Elephants, which are used in the Ringling Brothers’ circus. According the WWF, “efforts are being made not only to improve safety, but also to encourage captive breeding rather than taking from the wild. With nearly 30 percent of the remaining Asian elephants in captivity, attention needs to be paid to improve care and targeted breeding programs” (Endangered Species Conservation). In order to fight on behalf of the elephants, the WWF employs local staff in Cambodia to patrol the elephants. The WWF has also funded forest guards in Vietnam. They also have conservation efforts in Sumatra. They protect habitats as well as elephants. In the effort to repair habitats, the WWF is restoring the elephants’ migratory routes. The WWF will reach their goal when humans are no longer impacting elephant’s lives and habitats (Asian Elephant).

The Ringling Brothers circus began with four siblings in 1884 in Wisconsin. Soon, they bought out Barnum & Bailey’s Circus, their main competitor (Ringling Brothers). The Ringling Brothers train Asian Elephants and claims that “the Asian elephant is a respected and revered member of the Ringling Bros. family” (A Commitment To Caring). However, a trainer exposed the cruelty that this particular circus imposes on elephants, which received a lot of press coverage. People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals states that “In the Ringling Bros. circus, elephants are beaten, hit, poked, prodded, and jabbed with sharp hooks, sometimes until bloody. Ringling breaks the spirit of elephants when they’re vulnerable babies who should still be with their mothers” (Circuses). Because of the public’s reaction to the way Ringling Brothers trains elephants, the company has decided to eliminate elephants from their acts. Though elephants are still currently used to entertain their audiences, the elephants are being retired and moved to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in May 2016 (A Commitment to Caring).

Though the Ringling Brothers and the WWF have no previous history of working together, they could certainly join together in a way that is beneficial to both organizations. While the Ringling Brothers still use elephants in their performances, they care greatly about the public’s opinion of them because their profit relies on it. Moving their elephants to a conservation center will appease the public as well as protect the elephants that the WWF is desperately trying to defend. The two organizations could find common ground for a compromise because the Ringling Brothers needs to satisfy the public and the WWF wants to act as a guard to the elephants. The WWF could provide funds for the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation as well as advertise the fact that the Ringling Brothers is removing the elephants from the circus. As a result, the Ringling Brothers would receive positive publicity and aid for their conservation center and the WWF would promote anti-animal captivity.

Much of this compromise depends on money. In 2014, the WWF received $182,705 and spent only $178,450. The WWF had $4,255 leftover (Jeffries). Though the financial report for 2015 has not been released yet, it is safe to say that the WWF made roughly the same amount of money. The WWF could use its remaining money to help provide for the elephants at the conservation center. The elephants eat 2.5 tons of hay per day, and each ton costs about $100 (A Commitment to Caring). If the WWF spent all of its extra money on feeding the elephants, it could pay for 11.65% of the elephants’ hay. While this is not a large portion of the hay, it is still helpful. The Ringling Brothers could also ask for donations at the circus, which could be used to pay for more food. Elephants eat grains, vegetables, and fruits in addition to hay. The Center for Elephant Conservation also uses a lot of water to bathe and supply for the elephants (A Commitment to Caring). Though this partnership may not provide a large additional amount of funding, even a small amount is helpful. The Center for Elephant Conservation can also earn money from public trips through the facility. In addition to day trips, the Center for Elephant Conservation can earn money by hosting larger group trips. For example, schools could have field trips to the Center for Elephant Conservation. Not only does that promote the conservation work that the Ringling Brothers are doing, but the WWF will also be able to include their conservation messages. The group trips could include presentations about why conservation is significant and how individuals can personally contribute. Group trips to the Center for Elephant Conservation will benefit both organizations because the Ringling Brothers will receive positive publicity and earn money while the WWF can encourage others to participate in conservation efforts. With additional funding, the conservation center could potentially take on more animals. The Ringling Brothers can expand their conservation efforts by transferring more animals from the circus to the conservation center. The WWF could consider funding an expansion at the Center for Elephant Conservation as well as additional resources. In return for their financial support, the WWF can include in their conservation campaigns that the Ringling Brothers pulled more animals out of their circus. This will help their campaigns because it shows the public that conservation efforts are becoming widespread and that it is easy to help. The idea of widespread efforts encourages the public to join. Also, seeing the success of the Ringling Bros transition might inspire similar organizations to do the same.

In addition to financial help, this partnership would also provide positive publicity. The public wants to see the elephants taken out of the circus because of their mistreatment; therefore, by transferring the elephants to the conservation center the Ringling Brothers would gain the public’s support. The website for the Center for Elephant Conservation has a video that explains and shows the conservation center. The WWF could put this video on their website to promote wildlife conservation and anti-captivity. By publicizing the conservation center, the Ringling Brothers gains support while the WWF is able to further spread its message.

Though the WWF would lose money and the Ringling Brothers would lose its main act in the circus, both organizations have a lot to gain from this compromise. Promoting animal welfare puts both organizations in a positive light, and could potentially show other organizations that use animals in the entertainment industry that they could survive without animal performances. This partnership would promote anti-captivity to other organizations as well as to individuals. A simple compromise can help promote positive messages in addition to fostering public support, which is essential to both the Ringling Brothers and the World Wildlife Fund.

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Wildlife Conservation: The World Wildlife Fund and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. (2019, February 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 28, 2023, from
“Wildlife Conservation: The World Wildlife Fund and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus.” GradesFixer, 12 Feb. 2019,
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