Have you ever heard an elephant weep? If you have, then you know the heart-wrenching feeling in your heart; the sound will never leave your memory. You’ll hear it in your sleep, and you’ll never forget it as long as you live. I say that because I’ve heard an elephant cry out in pain when I was a child in Memphis, Tenn., more than 50 years ago.
We lived in an area very near where the circus animals would perform every year. At night I would lie in bed and hear the cries of the elephants that were being “trained” for the circus acts. I used to ask my dad, “Why are the animals crying?” My dad would tell me that sometimes, bad people do bad things to animals, but he said they would be OK because the animals were strong.
I suppose that was all he could say in order to appease me. But something in my 10-year-old head told me that a crying elephant was wrong — very wrong.
I didn’t realize when I was a child that elephants, bears, lions and other beautiful animals really didn’t like to ride bikes, jump through dangerous hoops of fire, or balance themselves on balls. I thought maybe they were just having fun.
What I didn’t know was that they only did it because they were terrified of what would happen to them if they didn’t. They are punished and deprived of food and water if they don’t perform their acts. They are beaten, and jabbed with sharp “bullhooks” until they are bloody. They are forced to wear tight collars, muzzles, and are tortured with electric prods, dragged with ropes and chains and other painful tools created specifically for beating them into submission.
So, when I heard that PETA was staging a protest last weekend against Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey on opening day of the circus, my friend and fellow animal advocate, Mary, and I knew we had to be there.
No matter what you think of PETA, whether you support them or not, it’s hard not to be a voice for the defenseless animals and be among the many compassionate individuals who are demanding that circuses either stop using animals altogether or stop the abuse and torture.
I believe that circus owners hire trainers who are sadistic people and who take great pleasure in beating an animal in order to have control over it. Please visit this site and read what former trainers have to say about the treatment of animals in the circuses where they used to work: wildlifeadvocacy.org/current/circus/former_employees_speak_out.php
Take a look at these pictures and you will be horrified at what you see is being done every day to these pitiful animals. For instance, baby elephants are beaten to a bloody pulp immediately after being taken from their mothers. Ringling Brothers takes great pride in breaking the spirit of their elephants, turning these majestic creatures into mammoth pieces of clay. The heartbreaking photos reveal how Ringling Bros. circus trainers cruelly force baby elephants to learn tricks, and it’s not through a reward system, as they loudly claim.
According to PETA reports, “elephants in Ringling’s possession are chained inside filthy, poorly ventilated boxcars for an average of more than 26 straight hours —and often 60 to 70 hours at a time — when the circus travels. Even former Ringling employees have reported that elephants are routinely abused and violently beaten with bullhooks in order to force them to perform tricks.”
Undercover video footage of animal training sessions has shown that not only are elephants beaten with bullhooks and shocked with electric prods, but big cats are also dragged by heavy chains around their necks and hit with sticks. Bears are whacked and prodded with long poles, and chimpanzees are kicked and hit with riding crops. To see the video footage, please visit peta.org/b/thepetafiles/archive/2011/06/23/another-elephant-beating-caught-on-tape.aspx.
And there’s more
Constant travel means that animals are confined to boxcars, trailers, or trucks for days at a time in extremely hot and cold weather, often without access to basic necessities such as food, water, and veterinary care. Elephants, big cats, bears, and primates are confined to cramped and filthy cages in which they eat, drink, sleep, defecate, and urinate — all in the same place.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus boast that its three units travel more than 25,000 miles as the circus tours the country for 11 months each year. Ringling’s own documents reveal that on average, elephants are chained for more than 26 hours straight and are sometimes continually chained for as many as 60 to 100 hours. Tigers and lions usually live and travel in cages that provide barely enough room for the animals to turn around, often with two big cats crammed into a single cage.
In July 2004, Clyde, a young lion traveling with Ringling, died in a poorly ventilated boxcar while the circus was crossing the Mojave Desert, where temperatures reached at least 100 degrees. Clyde likely died a miserable death from heatstroke and dehydration. Previously, two tigers with Ringling injured themselves while attempting to escape from their cages in an overheated boxcar.
And do we really have to explain why some animals try to escape and run rampant, trying to kill their trainers and others who get in the way?
The Insiders: A former Ringling Brothers employee speaks out
Sam Haddock was an elephant handler who worked at Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation (breeding and training center) in Polk City, Fla., for almost 10 years. Haddock was involved in training baby elephants at Ringling and came to regret his career choice later in life.
He provided PETA with photos to share with the public and help elephants. His circus career began with Ringling in the 1970s as an elephant trainer. In 1978, he left the circus and was diagnosed with active tuberculosis (TB) a few weeks later. He believed that he had contracted this deadly disease from the elephants, who were being treated for TB. Some 30 years later, elephants at Ringling are still becoming infected with and dying from TB.
When Mr. Haddock first contacted PETA, he described the violence and unimaginable cruelty inflicted on baby elephants and said that he had the shocking photos to prove it. A short time after providing PETA with dozens of disturbing images and a statement detailing how baby elephants are bound with ropes to break their spirits, Mr. Haddock himself passed away following a sudden illness. To read Mr. Haddocks’ complete 15-page declaration, please visit ringlingbeatsanimals.com/pdfs/haddockDeclarationRedacted.pdf.
How can they get away with it?
Circuses easily get away with routine abuse because no government agency monitors training sessions. The minimum requirements of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) are routinely ignored. Even though animal welfare standards are overseen by the USDA under provisions of the Animal Welfare Act, repeated violations are cited against Ringling Bros. and the cruelty continues. Perhaps we should just “follow the money.” Efforts to ban circus animals in cities like Denver, Colo., have been rejected by voters. You have to ask yourself: Why?
Who can stop this?
PETA obtained copies of USDA inspection reports that describe some of these repeated citations against the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for failing to adhere to the bare minimum regulations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act.
According to the most recent USDA inspection report, Ringling has failed to provide adequate veterinary care to an elephant named Sarah who is apparently suffering from an infection. Yet Sarah is still on the road with the circus and is being forced to perform night after night.
In fact, the USDA currently has open multiple investigations of potential violations of the AWA by Ringling.
What can you do?
Don’t let the colorful pageantry, the music, and the circus barkers camouflage what is really going on These are animals that think, feel, and are intelligent. They need our help.
Please get involved and be pro-active.
Filed Under: Community Commentary