PETA Video Shows 2009 Ringling Bros. Circus Handlers Beating Elephants
An Animal Rights Article from


Christina Boyle, NY Daily News
July 2009

[Ed. Note: See video, Ringling Bros. Videotaped Striking Elephants, 2009]

The world-famous Ringling Bros. circus faces fresh accusations of animal abuse today after undercover videos show handlers beating elephants before they enter the ring.

The tape, made by a man who posed as a stagehand for six months, is likely to stir outrage and give animal rights activists new ammunition in their campaign against the circus that bills itself "The Greatest Show on Earth."A worker with People for the Ethical

 Treatment of Animals used a secret camera to document what the group calls the abuse of animals as they're led from holding pens to the stage.The animals are seen herded together, wearing headdresses, while trainers stand around, appearing to randomly whip them with bull hooks across the head, legs and body.

Loud cracking noises can be heard.

In one scene, a handler curses an elephant, saying, "F--- you, fat ass" before using his whip to nonchalantly strike its trunk.

The elephants are led with a bull hook - a long pole with a metal point at the end - used to pull them by the trunk.


The undercover PETA employee scored a job with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and traveled with the circus as it toured seven states, a spokesman said.

Footage was shot between January and June, the animal rights organization said, and included a stint at Madison Square Garden.

"He witnessed these elephants being beaten for no apparent reason," said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA's vice president for cruelty investigations, who described the abuse as "consistent" and "routine."

"We've known for years that backstage beatings occur," said Nachminovitch, "but what will strike the audience is that these elephants can't do anything right as far as these workers go.

"This sort of behavior is deeply embedded."

Ringling Bros. officials said they were unaware of the video and could not comment on its content, but they maintained their animals are treated properly.

"PETA is an animal rights extremist group," said Steve Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros.

"We are very proud of our animal care, we are committed to the care of all our animals partly through our conservation programs at the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation.

"We have 139 years of experience of working with Asian elephants."

This is not the first time Ringling Bros. has come under attack or faced legal challenges.

In 2003, former barn man Tom Rider, who worked for the circus in the late 1990s, joined animal rights groups in filing a suit under the Endangered Species Act, accusing Ringling of "harming, harassing and wounding" the elephants.

The case went to trial six weeks ago; closing arguments are being heard this month.

And in 1998, the circus agreed to donate $20,000 to elephant-care groups to settle a case involving the death of a 3-year-old elephant in its Jacksonville, Fla., circus.

Ringling Bros. did not admit guilt.

The show underwent 52 inspections with 24 documented violations, many of them minor, from 2005 to 2008, according to the federal Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

As a result of the latest video, PETA filed a formal complaint yesterday with the Agriculture Department under the Animal Welfare Act.

It also plans to file complaints today in seven states where the show performed, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island, a spokesman said.

The American Veterinary Medical Association issues guidelines on how to train elephants and says the bull hook, or "guide" as it is known, should be used to produce only "light physical contact."
It should act as a "negative reinforcement" and be paired with a positive verbal command or reward of food to train the animal how to act.

"On rare occasions the guide may be used for physical punishment ... after a highly dangerous behavior is performed," the document states.

"The use of the guide, during routine training, in a manner that causes physical harm to the elephant, is not considered acceptable."

Return to Animal Rights Articles