The Worcester City Council needs more info on exotic animals in circuses before they make a decision to ban exotic animal acts from Woo? Here ya go, kids!
Kudos to councilors Rivera, Germain, O’Brien and Lukes for caring about animals, for being humane. We hope the other councilors see the light and do the right thing. We also hope Mayor Joe Petty follows in the footsteps of former Mayor Joe O’Brien and refuses to get sucked into the cheap publicity stunt Ringling pulls each year: lining all the elephants up at City Hall and feeding them bread from local bakeries or American veggies from the super market. Ringling wants the mayor welcoming the elephants! Instant validation! We are talking WILD ANIMALS FROM AFRICA. THEY BELONG WILD, IN AFRICA.
– R. Tirella
Learn More About Ringling Bros. Cruelty
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is known for its long history of abusing animals. In 1929, John Ringling ordered the execution of a majestic bull elephant named Black Diamond after the elephant killed a woman who had been in the crowd as he was paraded through a Texas city. Twenty men took aim and pumped some 170 bullets into Black Diamond’s body, then chopped off his bullet-ridden head and mounted it for display in Houston, Texas. Ringling’s cruel treatment of animals continues today.
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 (an elephant-training tool that resembles a fireplace poker), in order to force them to perform tricks.
Since 2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited Ringling numerous times for serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), such as the following:
- Improper handling of dangerous animals
- Failure to provide adequate veterinary care to animals, including an elephant with a large swelling on her leg, a camel with bloody wounds, and a camel injured on train tracks
- Causing trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm, and unnecessary discomfort to two elephants who sustained injuries when they ran amok during a performance
- Endangering tigers who were nearly baked alive in a boxcar because of poor maintenance of their enclosures
- Failure to test elephants for tuberculosis
- Unsanitary feeding practices
At least 30 elephants, including four babies, have died since 1992, including an 8-month-old baby elephant named Riccardo who was destroyed after he fractured his hind legs when he fell from a circus pedestal. Elephants are not the only animals with Ringling to suffer tragic deaths. In 2004, a 2-year-old lion died of apparent heatstroke while the circus train crossed the Mojave Desert.
To learn more about Ringling’s lengthy history of abusing animals and deceiving the public, read PETA’s Ringling Bros. factsheet (PDF).
Meet the Elephants
Animals used in circuses such as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey live a dismal life in which they are dominated, confined, and violently trained. Workers routinely beat, shock, and whip them until they learn to perform ridiculous tricks that make no sense to them.
Most elephants used by circuses were captured in the wild. Once removed from their families and natural habitat, their lives consist of little more than chains and intimidation. Some baby elephants are born on breeding farms, where they are torn away from their mothers, tethered with ropes, and kept in isolation until they learn to fear their trainers. Throughout their lifetime, all that they will ever know is extreme loneliness and beatings with sharp bullhooks.
Starting with a 2009 investigation, PETA has documented cruelty to more than 20 elephants—ranging in age from just 2 years old to at least 54—who are on the road with Ringling. These sensitive and intelligent animals have spent an average of 30-plus years with the circus, and four elephants have each been in Ringling’s possession for 43 long years.
These are just a few of the elephants who have been forced to perform with the circus in recent years:
Barack is a 2-year-old elephant born at Ringling’s Florida breeding compound. He is forced to endure life on the road with his mother, Bonnie, whose lack of natural, maternal behavior toward Barack has alarmed elephant experts. In early 2010 and again in 2011, Barack was diagnosed with the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a common killer of young, captive-born Asian elephants. EEHV is associated with stress, and symptoms include a pale or bluish tongue, swelling of the head and neck, and lethargy. Death is caused by massive internal hemorrhaging and heart failure. Barack was pulled from the show after his second diagnosis, and Ringling has not spoken publicly of his fate since then.
Nicole is a 34-year-old elephant who looks and acts twice her age, according to experts. Her front legs turn out, her wrists bow, and she has abnormal, swollen lumps on both front legs. Problems with feet and nails are a leading reason for euthanasia of captive elephants; all of Nicole’s foot pads are overgrown and discolored, and she has evidence of abscesses on her nails. She has lameness consistent with arthritis, painful bone bruising, and ligament or tendon damage in her right knee, which manifests as instability on that limb. She grimaces in pain while walking and has difficulty exiting the train cars, scraping her back on the undersized doorway.
Sara is a 9-year-old survivor of the cruel training practices used by Ringling that were brought to light by whistleblower Sam Haddock. She is underweight, as is indicated by her very sunken face and prominent skull bones. Sara has suffered from chronic lameness since early 2009, but Ringling has not conducted adequate diagnostics, developed a treatment plan, or ensured that she receives prescribed treatments. Sara displays a high intensity and frequency of abnormal behaviors, including swaying and head-bobbing. She appears to be nervous around people and shows fear responses toward her trainer. She frequently thumps her trunk on the ground, an common indicator of anxiety, and she may walk with her mouth open, a sign of abdominal discomfort or thirst.
Karen is a 42-year-old elephant who was born in the wild in Asia. Experts have deemed her to be in such poor condition that the humane option would be to allow her to retire. Late in 2010, Karen was granted a reprieve and permitted to stop traveling, but as of March 2011, she is back with the Blue Unit. Karen is being forced to perform unnatural “tricks”—such as lifting a basket with a dog inside it with her mouth while standing on a rotating pedestal—despite needing veterinary care for dental problems and overgrown, inflexible foot pads, a condition that is painful and predisposes her to osteoarthritis.
Meet some of the elephants forced to travel with Ringling’s Red Unit:
Tonka was born in captivity and has been with Ringling since about 1989. PETA captured on video an incident in which the 28-year-old elephant was hooked behind the ear, causing her to scream and bleed, while the elephants were being walked from the arena to the train in Austin, Texas. Her brother, Kenny, suffered a worse fate. In 1998, 3-year-old Kenny, who had been bleeding from his rectum and was clearly very sick, died alone in a stall after being forced to perform despite being sick. As a result, Ringling was charged with violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act and paid $20,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
Luna, an Asian elephant, is considered to be especially dangerous. Like Tonka, she and her siblings have also suffered horrible abuse at the hands of the circus industry. Luna’s brother Ned was found to be emaciated and was confiscated from circus trainer Lance Ramos-Kollmann in 2008. Ned was placed at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where he died on May 15, 2009. Luna’s brother Benjamin drowned on July 26, 1999, when he was only 4 years old, as he tried to move away from a trainer who was jabbing him with a bullhook while he was swimming in a pond.
Angelica, 14, has been held captive by Ringling since the day that she was born. In 1999, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report stated that there were large lesions on Angelica’s leg, and a Ringling employee said that the scars were caused by rope burns resulting from the violent and terrifying process of separating Angelica from her mother. In January 2006, the USDA cited Ringling for causing trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm, and unnecessary discomfort to Angelica and another elephant who suffered injuries after the two elephants ran amok while performing in Puerto Rico.
Assan, Banana, and Baby were born in the wild in Asia, and all three have been with Ringling since about 1968. A humane officer discovered lacerations consistent with bullhook wounds on Assan and Baby during an inspection in California. A former Ringling employee reported that the elderly Banana, who suffers from arthritis, was not being given medication to help alleviate the pain.
Take Action to Help Ailing Elephants Now
Imagine if you had to walk to work every day while suffering from a debilitating medical condition that caused your joints to ache and your feet to throb. At work, you’d be kept on your feet constantly and forced to perform physical labor for long shifts. You’d be given no chance to recuperate (much less retire), and when you slowed down or balked, your boss would hit youwith something resembling a fireplace poker or would stick the pointy end of the instrument under your chin and drag you around. When you weren’t working, you would live in chains.
That’s pretty much what life is like for Karen and Nicole—two crippled elephants who are shunted from town to town by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the ability and the responsibility to seize suffering animals, yet the agency allows them to travel up to 50 weeks a year in cramped and filthy boxcars and trailers, to be kept tightly chained by two legs (and sometimes all four), and to be beaten for even looking sideways at a trainer. PETA’s complaints against Ringling Bros.—persistently filed over several years—regarding beatings and the death of elephants, including one particular baby who succumbed during training, led to the largest fine in circus history.
But while fining Ringling Bros. is a step in the right direction, it is only the first step and does nothing to stop the horrors that elephants are enduring at this very moment. In July 2012, after a thorough inspection by an elephant expert, Nicole and Karen were found to be arthritic, crippled, and in chronic pain. Even though the expert notified the city of Los Angeles of their dire condition and recommended that the elephants sit out of the show, Karen and Nicole were forced to perform as usual. This is just one of the numerous examples of city officials ignoring compelling evidence and the opinions of independent experts. Since local jurisdictions have not acted on the clear evidence of abuse and neglect, it is up to the USDA to see to it that the federal laws designed to protect these animals are enforced.
Please take a minute of your time to weigh in regarding these suffering elephants and push for them to get the retirement that they deserve. Please use the form below to urge Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to confiscate all ailing animals from Ringling now. There are reputable sanctuaries that would gladly provide the elephants with a safe environment so that they can live out the rest of their years in peace.