By now you have probably all heard about Ringling Brothers agreeing to remove elephants from their shows. If not, the deal is that they will supposedly retire all elephants from their three, touring circuses by 2018. This is, undeniably, a huge step forward for elephants in particular, but also for animal rights in general. If society can learn to see elephants as more than just props for our entertainment, perhaps there is hope that they will soon begin to see the lives of other animals a having value beyond our uses for them.
I do still struggle though with the tendency of humans to refuse to see the similarities between the animals we love and the ones we only use. And so much of this voluntary blindness seems to be based mostly on convenience. I think the reason so many people have finally decided that elephants deserve better than the sad existence that the circus provides them is because the circus really isn't that big a part of most people's lives. They see footage of elephants being abused and they think how awful it is. Then they ask themselves how hard it would be to stop supporting the circus, and decide that it's worth it. However, when people see footage of farmed animals being abused and think how awful it is, they ask themselves how hard it would be to stop supporting animal agriculture and decide that maybe the way farmed animals are treated really isn't so awful after all. They also tell themselves that, while elephants are highly intelligent and social creatures, cows, pigs, and chickens are much more simple and incapable of such severe suffering.
The truth is, all animals suffer when they are abused and, when we are really honest with ourselves, farmed animals are subjected to far more abuse than elephants and other animals used for entertainment. The reason we have accepted the fact that elephants deserve better is that we get to feel better about ourselves for "helping" them without making any real sacrifices in our daily lives. I can only hope that this step forward in our attitude toward one species will eventually lead to a better understand of the needs of other species, and maybe someday we will see that they too deserve better than the abuse they have to suffer because of us.