Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
5 December 1999 Issue

The Circus Hall of Shame
By [email protected]

While commenting to the government on animal training, Ringling compared bull hooks and whips on animals to methods used to teach children. "Negative reinforcement occurs daily when a child is told 'no' or is physically prevented from engaging in an unwanted or inappropriate behavior. Similarly, negative reinforcement and discipline are tools which ultimately protect the animal and the individuals working with the animal; by discouraging and eliminating unwanted behavior, the animal's life is enriched and safer."

The Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus has committed some of the most disgusting acts of cruelty toward circus animals. Not only do they have a string of USDA inspection reports (more than 100 instances since 1992) riddled with circumstances in which Ringling failed to abide by the minimal federal regulations, but the majority of their elephants have actually been stolen from the wild, one of the cruelest acts that can be committed against an animal. In addition, Ringling would love to have you believe that, in their own words, "the relationship between animals and humans is built on mutual respect, trust, and affection." Yet, Ringling trainers caught on video have been shown demonstrating activities that can be called anything but respectful and affectionate.

2/99: During a USDA inspection, an inspector reported that "there were large visible lesions on the rear legs of both 'Doc' and 'Angelica' " (baby elephants). When questioned as to the cause of these lesions, it was stated that "these scars were caused by rope burns, resulting from the separation process from the mothers."

1/24/98: An endangered baby Asian elephant, "Kenny," who was performing in the Ringling circus, was forced to perform in two shows despite the fact that he was obviously sick. He died only hours later. Kenny had been taken from his mother at only two years of age and sent on the road where he was chained when he was not performing.

1/7/98: Graham Chipperfield, a Ringling trainer, shot a caged tiger, "Arnold", five times after the tiger had attacked another trainer, Chipperfield's brother, earlier that day.

* In addition to the horrendous treatment shown to its captive animals, Ringling has also failed to provide for the mere safekeeping of its animals:

7/26/99, Texas: A young elephant drowned in a pool during a travel stop in Texas. The elephant was the fifth Ringling Circus animal to die in the last 18 months.

2/22/99, Norfolk, VA: A 15 year-old Polish Arabian horse, named "Sabre", collapsed and died during a procession of the animals to a civic center. Polish Arabian horses may live to the age of 30 years.

* Still, Ringling is not alone in its mistreatment of circus animals.

8/21/99: "Petunia," an Asian elephant, died at Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros.' winter headquarters in Florida several weeks after suffering severe injuries to her back and hindquarters. "Petunia's" injuries resulted from a tent pole collapsing on top of her as she was being worked to help raise the circus's big top for a performance.

6/98: During two separate inspections of the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, the USDA's APHIS found several elephants with wounds evidently inflicted by abusive use of an ankus (elephant hook). In a press release issued by the agency, the USDA stated, "We believe that Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus abusively used an elephant hook on several animals."

4/3/98: Eight horses were turned over to the San Bernardino Humane Society after they were found to be malnourished. The Sterling & Reid Brothers Circus was charged with cruelty to animals.

8/6/97: An elephant in the King Royal Bros. Circus, named "Heather," was found dead inside a trailer carrying two other elephants and eight llamas. Police, who spotted the vehicle swaying in a parking lot, estimated the temperature inside the vehicle to be 120 degrees. Necropsy results gave the cause of death as salmonella poisoning complicated by malnutrition and stress. "Heather" had been taken as a baby from her African homeland shortly before the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the trade in Asian and African elephants in 1990.

8/1/97: An employee of Allen Brothers Circus was charged with four counts of animal cruelty for leaving two Bengal tigers and two lions for over eight hours in a disabled trailer along a road near Lima, Ohio. A marketing coordinator for the Toledo Zoo said, "the animals were in a metal trailer in the hot sun without access to water."

10/20/95: A 14-year-old puma in the Russian All-Star Circus, named "Nice," was found dead in his cage. The suspected cause was poisoning.

8/19/91: Several witnesses reported a man beating a baby elephant with a shovel after he pulled his truck into a restaurant parking lot. The elephant and the man were in town with the Great American Circus. One witness said she could hear the elephant shrieking from inside the restaurant. Another said the man hit the elephant 15 or 20 times with a shovel, then left when he noticed people staring at him.

These travesties committed against the animal kingdom must not be allowed to continue! Several countries, such as Sweden, India, Finland, Switzerland, and Denmark, have banned the use of live animals in entertainment. Circuses with animal acts are often denied public space in England. In the US, many local and state governments have outlawed animal acts. However, the majority of states continue to allow circuses with animal entertainment to stop in their towns. While a particular state's anti-cruelty statutes may be directly violated by the cruel training techniques inflicted upon performing animals, USDA licensed operations are exempt from such statutes in a handful of states. This means that the torture is allowed to continue despite what state laws say. In two states, circuses are exempt completely from the anti-cruelty statues, which means that prosecution of abuse and torture committed against the circus animals is most likely impossible.

For help in proposing legislation to ban live animal entertainment in your state, contact the Humane Society of the United States Government Affairs staff at 2100L Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 210037 or (202) 452-1100.

For more information, visit
To read the USDA reports of circuses with live animal entertainment, visit

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