Most of us grew up looking forward to attending the circus, blissfully unaware of the horrors that animals suffer in the entertainment industry.  This area of animal exploitation is not depicted accurately, in most instances.  The realities have been well hidden from the public until animal welfare groups began conducting undercover investigations and sharing their findings. A few examples from investigative reports and video footage reveal the following:

The plight of Stoney, an elephant born in a zoo and subsequently dumped to a circus when he was only 3 years old.  He worked for the next 21 years, until the day he was forced to do a leg stand while warming up at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.  Stoney pulled a ham-string in his left rear leg, which is a crucial injury to an elephant.  He was unable to walk and in extreme pain.  His trainer and hotel officials placed the screaming elephant into a hotel dumpster, dragged it into a maintenance shed behind the hotel. . .and left him standing in a mechanical device (a “crush”), isolated, for almost a year.  Stoney lived in a buildup of feces and flies, received no fresh produce or other supplements and very little, if any, physical therapy.  Ultimately, following negative publicity and pressure from animal advocates, it was decided to move Stoney to a sanctuary.  As they tried to get him out of the device that had been holding him up, he fell, screaming in agony.  After his year of existing in miserable, lonely conditions, and suffering even more pain during the attempt to move him, he died, trying to reach out to his trainer one last time.

Ricardo, an 8-month-old baby elephant was killed by Ringling after he broke both legs following a fall from a circus pedestal.  His injuries were compounded by the bone disease from which he was suffering (attributed to malnourishment).  Ricardo’s mother was only 7 years old when she was used for breeding, much too young.  During labor, she was chained by three legs to a cold, hard cement floor.  After Ricardo was born, she tried reaching her trunk out to touch him; however, the staff had already pulled him away from her reach.

A young Bengal tiger was shot five times by his angry trainer; a sick baby elephant was forced into the ring repeatedly against veterinary orders, until he died when the show was over; a healthy 2-year-old lion died during transport in a stifling boxcar.

Animal circuses are deadly, miserable places for all the animals forced to spend their lives performing unnatural acts to entertain audiences.  They are kept in cramped, sweltering, poorly ventilated boxcars or trailers during travel; beaten, neglected or killed.  These animals are frightened into submission by the use of whips, sticks, bullhooks (heavy clubs with sharp metal hooks at the tip), and fists.  They are routinely beaten and forced into confusing, frightening and painful stunts.  How often do we see elephants performing headstands in the wild?  Does this sound like wholesome family entertainment?

Baby elephants are torn away from their mothers, tied hammock-style between two trees or posts; or chained to the ground for most of the time (up to 20 hours a day) in order to break them and make them submissive.  They can be heard crying out for their mothers, while being denied the right to play and do what is natural to them.

Ringling and other circuses sometimes try to sneak into town after nightfall, undetected, so as to avoid having anyone witness the abusive treatment of their animals.  They hired a former deputy director of the CIA to disrupt advocacy group efforts to expose their shameful abuse of animals. 

Former employees have confirmed the horrors that the circus has worked hard to hide.  These individuals left because they could no longer tolerate the horrible abuse inflicted upon the animals.  In their signed statements, they describe an incident in which an elephant refused a command; the trainer savagely beat her with a bullhook, hooking her behind the ear, on her back, on the leg. . .and at one point, swinging the club as hard as he could, embedding the sharp point inside the elephant’s ear canal, and pulling on the handle using both hands and all his bodyweight.  The elephant, crying out in agony, was left bleeding profusely from severe wounds.

Many hardworking animal welfare organizations such as In Defense of Animals. PAWS, PETA and The Humane Society of the United States work tirelessly to amass evidence, which is used to open investigations leading to fines, citations, forced compliance of the Animal Welfare Act, and the removal of some animals. Smaller circuses have been forced to shut down.

We can all help by refusing to patronize entertainment venues that are based upon the use of animals.  Additionally, investigations require ongoing funding; instead of paying circuses, consider contributing that money to one of the organizations above.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

By Annoula Wylderich

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