editor’s note: This “side bar” by Steve Baer ran in an ICT cover story (also by Steve Baer). We repost it today in light of what’s happening in Worcester today. – R. Tirella
Elephants and Circuses
By Steve Baer
In June 2000, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, The Fund for Animals, the Animal Protection Institute, and Tom Rider, a former employee of Ringling Brothers, filed a lawsuit against Ringling Brothers in Federal District court under the Endangered Species Act.
The lawsuit charges that the circus uses a stick with a sharpened metal hook on the end (called a “bullhook” or “ankus”) to repeatedly beat, pull, push, torment and threaten elephants. This type of aggression should be illegal, and is, but only because the recipients of the beatings were highly endangered Asian Elephants. Other animals in the circus, unfortunately, are not given the same level of protection. The intention of the lawsuit was to immediately stop Ringling’s inhumane mistreatment of animals in the circus.
It wasn’t, however, until October 2006, a year after a September 2005 court order by a Federal District judge who announced that he will incarcerate Ringling’s lawyers and executives if they do not turn over critical veterinary documents that Ringling disclosed their internal veterinary records. The records revealed Ringling Brothers severe abuse of the elephants.“[We] hope the spotlight continues to shine on the use of inhumane chains and bullhooks and Ringling’s cruel behind-the-scenes treatment of elephants,” said Nicole Paquette, G e n e r a l C o u n s e l a n d Director of L e g a l Affairs at the Animal Protection Institute.
“ T h e Court has run out of patience for R i n g l i n g Bro t h e r s ’ s t a l l i n g ploys,” added M i c h a e l Markarian, president of The Fund for A n i m a l s . ” This trial will come not a moment too soon, as R i n g l i n g ’s e l e p h a n t s continue to suffer every day from abusive discipline and prolonged chaining.”
Elephants are not domestic pets. They are wild animals. The same is true of lions, tigers, and bears. To be trained for the circus, an elephant had to have been chained down and had the spirit repeatedly beaten out of him or her by a team of “animal trainers.” The “trainers” use baseball bats, metal pipes, ax handles, metal prods, and sticks. The intention of the “trainers” is to show the elephant who is boss. The elephant, being an emotionally sensitive creature, as well as having a sensitive skin, is known to cry during such sessions. The torment, which doesn’t end for days, leaves behind a mere shell of the former animal. The elephant suffers emotional scars, and often physical scars too.
One “trainer” for a major circus was caught on under cover video saying “You’ve got to make them scream – You’ve got to make them cry!” in reference to how to make an elephant ready for performing in a circus.
According to Henry Ringling North in his book “The Circus Kings,” the big cats are “chained to their pedestals, and ropes are put around their necks to choke them down.” Writes Mr. Ringling North, “They work from fear.” Bears may have their noses broken while being trained to “teach” them to respond to commands, and their paws burned to force them to stand on their hind legs.
Once animals have learned to feel helplessness and have become spiritually drained, they are kept in a state of submission through various mechanisms.
Animals, such as bears, may be forced into tight fitting muzzles so they will remain subdued and discouraged from protecting themselves. The muzzles interfere with vision and respiration. Similarly, tight collars are employed to make animals more manageable. Others have their teeth removed. Chimpanzees and bears reportedly had their teeth knocked out by a hammer. Animals are declawed, defanged, and/or tranquilized to maintain control over them.
Elephants are forced to perform tricks by being hit with the ankus and electric prods. The ankus has a long handle with a sharp metal hook. It is jabbed into the most sensitive parts of an elephant’s body – under the trunk, behind the ears, around the eyes, inside their mouth, behind the knees, and in the genital region. Elephants are kept in fear, so they can be easily controlled by the circus.
Frequently an elephant will sustain an injury while being forced to perform an unnatural movement, such as balancing on two feet on a stool. Undercover investigators as recently as July 2006, have videotaped trainers beating elephants. Ringling’s own “Animal Behaviorist” in a January 2005 e-mail, recounted to Ringling’s General Manager that she saw an elephant named Lutzi “dripping blood all over the arena floor during the show from being hooked” after a handler “hook[ed] Lutzi under the trunk three times and behind the leg once in an attempt to line her up for the Tmount.” (A “T-mount” is a stunt where two elephants and at least one person stand on the back of a kneeling elephant.)
An elephant cannot always carry his or her weight on two legs, so a torn ligament is not uncommon. If the injuries are left untreated, it can be disastrous for the elephant.
Make no mistake about it, the whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bull-hooks, and other enslavement tools used during circus acts and training sessions are reminders to you, and to the animals, that they are being forced to perform. Animals do not naturally ride bicycles, stand on their heads, or jump through rings of fire. In contrast to the exciting public relations hype associated with circuses, animals in the circus live a dismal life of domination, confinement, and violent training.
On The Road
Most circus animals usually live and travel in small, barren transport cages. Their cages are often so small that it is difficult for the animals to turn around. The animals are hauled around the country in poorly ventilated trailers and boxcars for up to 50 weeks a year in all kinds of extreme weather conditions. Animals defecate, urinate, eat, drink and sleep in the same small cramped cages. Access to the basic necessities of food, water, and veterinary care is often inadequate. Tigers and lions who naturally secure a territory of 75 to 2,000 square miles are often forced to live and travel in cages only 4 feet wide by 6 feet long by 5 feet tall.
Circus animals who are not confined to cages may often be chained or tethered almost the whole day. Most circuses routinely chain their elephants, while ungulates such as camels, zebras, and horses are tethered or stalled.
Under sworn testimony to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, witnesses and former circus employees have reported that elephants are normally chained by one front leg and one rear leg. Chains are usually, although not always, long enough to permit the elephant to take a step or two forward or backwards, and to lie down. Elephants are also kept chained in enclosed boxcars where they stand in their own excrement and urine for days unable to move around, smell fresh air, or find intellectual stimulation. Reportedly, circus elephants are confined in this way for 20 or more hours each day. The prolonged standing in wet, unsanitary conditions can lead to physical problems – such as arthritis and life threatening foot problems (foot rot, cracked nails, and infected cuticles) – and psychological problems. In the wild, elephants travel tens of miles each day. The inadequate exercise that elephants enslaved by the circus experience contributes to their decline in health.
In sworn testimony, Tom Rider, a former Ringling Brothers elephant barn-keeper stated, “After three years of working with elephants in the circus, I can tell you that they live in confinement and they are beaten all the time when they don’t perform properly.”
Other former Ringling Brothers employees have spoken out against behind-the-scenes animal cruelty. Former Ringling performer Kelly Tansy commented, “On my very first day with the circus, I witnessed animal cruelty. I saw an elephant being beaten in what appeared to be a disciplinary action. The beating was so severe that the elephant screamed. I have come to realize, through all the circuses that I have worked for, that mistreatment of animals is a standard part of training and is thought to be a ‘necessary’ part of exhibiting them. Additionally, Tansy reports, “I have seen chimps locked in small cages constantly when not performing; elephants chained continuously; and even animals being beaten during performances.”
The continual frustration of wild animals who are unable to engage in their instinctive behaviors can lead the animals to some serious psychological problems. Stereotypic actions such as hyper-aggression, apathy, selfmutilation, bar-biting, and pacing are indicative of psychological maladies. Frustrated by the lack of ability to move elephants repeatedly bob their heads and sway back and forth; some repeatedly rattle their chains with their trunks. Both of these actions are signs of neurotic behavior. Animals in the circus are often deprived of food and water to induce them to perform, as well as to prevent untimely defecation while they are in public view.
Even if it was possible to supply circus animals with all their material wants, something vital would still be lacking. What’s lacking is the joy that is associated with simply having the ability to evade being forced to do something.
Under natural conditions, in the wild, elephants have a life span of about 60 years. Elephants are normally migratory, traveling over 4,000 miles a year. Elephants have poor eyesight, but all of their other senses—hearing, smell, taste, and touch—are acute. Their trunk is frequently at work picking up scents of food and danger from the ground and air. Elephants can smell water at great distances and can hear certain sounds more than a mile away. Elephants in the wild dine on a wealth of plant parts—leaves, twigs, bark, shoots, fruit, flowers, roots, tubers, and bulbs.
Female elephants are among the few mammals, including humans, that live beyond their reproductive years. The typical cow will end her reproductive years at around 45 years old. During this post-reproductive period between 45 and 60 plus years, she assists in the care of the young of other elephants.
Elephants display complex, highly social behavior, living in tightly knit families headed by the oldest females. These elephants remain together for life. The family also defends the young, sick, old, and disabled from predators. Elephants are highly emotional individuals. They express joy, pleasure, and compassion, as well as sadness and grief. Wild elephants have been known to celebrate births of new elephants and to grieve and even shed tears over the death of a family member.
It is a shame and a travesty of morality that for the sake our children’s and our own momentary entertainment we encourage so much distress to come to pass on the families and the young of elephants.
What are we teaching children?
Circuses use animals to appeal to children and the child nature in adults. Observing animals at the circus, however, teaches children nothing about the natural behaviors of other species. They may learn about the size, shape and color of the animals, but behavior patterns, social interactions, intelligence, hunting instinct, maternal care giving, food gathering and movement patterns are absent. Instead, children are presented with images of either ferocious or stupid animals, whose seemingly only purpose is to amuse humans. The child unconsciously takes home from the circus the feeling that it is acceptable to exploit another being… animal or human.
Dr. Michael W. Fox, a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, and former professor of psychology reveals that “Parents have told [him] that they do not take their children to the circus where there are performing animals because they know intuitively, empathically, that it is wrong.”
Dr. Fox acknowledges that exposing children to “covert animal cruelty and overt domination, control, and exploitation teaches children that it is culturally acceptable, and the norm, to subjugate other sentient beings [humans included] and make them perform unnatural acts.” According to Dr. Fox, “The child’s nascent capacity to empathize with other living beings is certainly… crippled.” Dr. Fox asserts that “To expose and subject sensitive and impressionable children to the wild animal-abusing circus is child abuse.”
Protect yourself. A deadly and highly contagious human strain of tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis or TB) is infecting and killing captive elephants. TB is an airborne disease that spreads through tiny droplets in the air.
According to Dr. John Lewis of the International Zoo Veterinary Group, “[I]f tuberculosis is diagnosed in an elephant there are clear public health implications as the disease can be spread by close contact with infected animals [and] people.” Circuses routinely allow members of the public to feed, pet, and ride elephants.
TB is difficult to identify in elephants. Elephants are too large to be x-rayed, skin tests are unreliable, and trunk wash cultures only indicate whether the elephant has active TB. Circuses may also intentionally mislabel trunk wash specimens from infected animals using a TBnegative animal as the donor. No test can determine if an elephant is harboring a TB infection. Infected elephants may exhibit no symptoms of TB or may suffer from chronic weight loss, diminished appetite, chronic nasal discharge, coughing, and intolerance to exercise.
An extremely thin elephant, Lota, was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1996. A photo taken in May 2001 shows a child petting her at a circus. A few months later, this elephant was taken off the road and again given tuberculosis treatment
Most circuses have been cited by the USDA for failure to comply with TB testing requirements for elephants and handlers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has determined that USDA veterinary medical officers and animal care inspectors who conduct elephant inspections may be at risk for TB infection.
Two police officers, one a fairly regular looking 5-feet 5-inch tall man and the other a very muscular 6-feet 4- inch tall man, were covering a detail at a circus near Worcester. They were asked by a citizen of the town “If one of the [three] elephants rampage what are you prepared to do.” The shorter police officer motions toward the larger police officer and replies, “I’ll hide behind him!” In truth there isn’t much more most people could do. Once a stressed out elephant rebels against a trainer’s physical dominance, the rampage is nearly impossible to stop without lethal force. In the event that an elephant runs amok, circus personnel cannot protect themselves, nor can they protect the general public.
An elephant who went berserk in Florida in 1992 with five children on her back was shot with more than 50 rounds of ammunition before an officer was located who happened to have armor-piercing bullets specially designed by the military to penetrate steel.Would you want your child on the back of an elephant that is being shot at?
In 1994, a stressed out circus elephant name Tyke could not take the abuse any longer. Her deadly rampage lasted an hour in downtown Honolulu. Department-issued semi-automatic pistols were useless. A zoo veterinarian’s lethal injections had no effect. The police finally located a high-powered counter-sniper rifle and fired three rounds into her heart. Tyke died after having been shot 87 times.
Where Are the Regulating Bodies?
The only federal law regulating the treatment of most wild animals in circuses is the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The AWA is inadequate and is inconsistently enforced. Circuses that do not comply with the Act are often given several opportunities to remedy violations. The USDA, itself determined that they “cannot ensure the humane care and treatment of animals as required by the AWA.”
According to Dr. Peggy Larson, a former USDA inspector and a veterinarian, “Circus animals are poorly inspected under the USDA Animal Welfare Act.” Dr. Larson stated that USDA veterinarians, who concern themselves primarily with housing and husbandry, do not know how to diagnose diseases in wild animals. And since neither a large animal practitioner nor a small animal veterinarian is equipped to handle elephants or big cats, circus animals are often not treated when they need care. Dr. Larson concluded, “USDA compliance is at best hopelessly ineffective.”
It can not be overstated that the vigilance and help of the public is essential when it comes to identifying and reporting circus animal abuse. If it were not for the help of concerned and compassionate people the truth about Ringling Brothers Circus cruelty and other circuses would still be well hidden and left unchecked.
Many uniformed people see elephants and other circus animals as being something of an American cultural tradition. Often, though, after becoming informed that no circus can possibly provide the right environment or proper care for such creatures, people find it unconscionable to allow an animal circus into town. Over 50 municipalities across the US, from Marin County CA to Weymouth MA prohibit circuses from operating in their community if they have elephants or other wild animals.
Ringling Brothers Circus- The Cruelest Show On Earth Industry Leader
Of all the animal circuses, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus is the most diabolical and manipulative, not only to the animals, but also to the public.
Ringling Bros. public relations department has been working overtime to deceive the public into believing that animals imprisoned in the circus are “treated like family.” But no amount of misleading propaganda can sanitize the circus’s horrific record of animal neglect and their sabotage of the work of animal advocacy groups.
Since 1993, Ringling Brothers has been cited for more than one hundred deficiencies in animal care during inspections conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The circus has consistently opposed legislation and regulations to improve the conditions of captive wildlife. In California, for example, Ringling Bros. opposed legislation to limit the time an elephant may be confined in chains in a 24-hour period. Ringling Brothers has been investigated by the USDA as a result of allegations of cruelty to animals made by former circus workers, one of whom testified before Congress about his experiences with the circus. Since late 1998, three former Ringling Brothers employees have stated that the circus’s elephants, including the babies, receive regular beatings. The Ringling Bros. circus has been sued by two animal protection organizations for conducting illegal spying operations.To settle one case out of court, Ringling Bros. agreed to turn over custody of older animals.
Ringling Brothers Circus failed to protect a 4-year old Bengal tiger from being shot to death while he was in his cage; killed a 3-year old elephant through neglect and tried to hide the body; forcibly separated two baby elephants from their mothers by dragging the babies away with rope, resulting in rope burn wounds on the rear legs of the babies; overworked a 15-year old horse to the point of exhaustion and death; drowned a 4-year old elephant; tried to cover-up the death of a 2-year-old lion that dehydrated in a circus train that was traveling with no water break across California’s Mojave Desert on an overly hot day; euthanized an 8-month old elephant who fell from a pedestal breaking his legs that were bound together during training; caused a wild caught sea lion to die in her transport container, and failed to provide adequate ventilation for their tigers resulting in one tiger injuring his eye and breaking his tooth as he attempted to tear open a cage door and escape from the dangerously high temperatures of the trailer.
But the crimes that Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus commits extend beyond nonhuman animals. Ken Feld, CEO of Ringling Brothers Circus has been caught performing illegal wiretaps on the public, hiring ex-CIA people to illegally monitor and interfere in peoples’ lives, manipulating public sentiment against animal protection organizations, and using lobbyists and lawyers to defeat legislation which was designed to protect people from harm. Proof of this information is found in “Smith vs. Feld, civil action case number 98-357-A.
In that document Clair E. George, former Central Intelligence Agency deputy director for covert operations states that “Feld had set up a special unit, much like the Watergate ‘plumbers,’ to destroy anyone who threatened the image of the circus as wholesome fun-for-the-whole-family, conscientious custodian of animals. Feld’s main target was People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).”
PETA had circulated USDA reports that described horrible conditions at Ringling Brothers circus’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Fla. At the Center USDA inspectors found two tightly chained baby elephants with lesions and scars on their legs, evidently caused by constant friction with their restraints. When USDA inspectors asked about the injuries, the elephant handlers told the inspectors that baby elephants were “routinely” chained to forcibly separate them “from their mothers.” The handlers angrily tried to block the inspectors from taking pictures. It was also discovered that about half of the elephants in Ringling Brothers Circus shows in Florida had a form of tuberculosis that was transmittable to human beings.
Not all circuses use animals. Good circuses dazzle their audiences solely with skilled human performers who are so talented at their art that they don’t need to enslave animals. Some animalfree circuses that have grown in popularity include Cirque du Soleil, Circus Smirkus, Circus Chimera, Circus Millennia, Cirque Eloize, Circus Oz, The New Pickle Family Circus, and Bindlestiff Family Circus. These animal-free circuses make it possible for families to have fun without causing animal suffering.
The number of cities and towns that are banning the use of animals in circuses is growing. People in many communities are realizing that wild animals don’t belong in the circus because of harm to the animals and the inherent risk to public safety.
You Can Help
Every individual has the power to limit and even stop the use of animals in circuses. Educate others. Most people would not support the circus if they saw animal trainers beating elephants mercilessly with razor sharp bullhooks behind the scenes or knew that tigers were kept in cages only 4’ x 5’ for the majority of their lives. Talk to friends, family, and neighbors about the cruel treatment animals endure under the big top. Encourage them to join you in taking a stand against animal circuses. You can also write letters to urge industry leaders and circus sponsors to avoid bringing animal circuses into town; ask your town to ban live animal acts; encourage legislators to support legislation to end exotic animal acts; request enforcement of animal welfare regulations; and report any perceived violations of state and local animal protection laws to the police and animal control.
If you are interested in helping to stop animal circuses from coming into Massachusetts please contact the Animal Protection Institute at 1-800- 348-7387, or go to www.api4animals.org or www.morebeautifulwild.com
Four Fast Facts about Animals in the Circus
1. Every major circus that uses animals has been cited for violating the minimal standards of care set forth in the United States Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
2. Animals born in circus “conservation” breeding programs have never been released into the wild.
3. From 1994 to 2005, at least 31 elephants died premature deaths in the circus.
4. Captive elephant and captive feline attacks on humans in the U.S. have resulted in hundreds of injuries, many resulting in death.