Ringling Bros. Last Elephant Show, Wilkes-Barre, PA, May 1, 2016
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org


Last Chance for Animals (LCA)
March 2016

UPDATE: Ringling Bros. Retiring Elephant Act Early - Last Elephant Shows Sunday, May 1, 2016 in Wilkes-Barre, PA and Providence, RI

ringling elephant
Ringling elephant

After decades of protests by LCA and other animal rights organizations, Ringling Bros. is finally ending its elephant act in spring of 2016 — more than a year earlier than projected in March 2015, when they first announced plans to retire the elephants.

This is a major victory for elephants in entertainment, but long overdue. What's more, Ringling Bros. is only retiring the elephant act because it has become cost prohibitive for them. They are not ending the act because they had a change of heart, but because Ringling Bros. heard the outcry from activists and the general public. It has also become more difficult for Ringling Bros. as more cities pass laws banning the use of the elephant bull hook. Still, the retirement is good news for the elephants who will no longer be forced to perform the ridiculous circus acts that are not natural for them and are only brought about by fear, domination and beatings.

Unfortunately, the elephants will "retire" to Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, a facilty in Florida that breeds elephants for entertainment, chains them up at night and even loans them to zoos. LCA urges Ringling Bros. to send the elephants to a true sanctuary where they will get the space and humane treatment they need, and continues to fight to ban all animals from circuses.

chained circus elephants

Ringling's two final elephant shows will occur on the same night -- Sunday, May 1, 2016. A demo will be held at the Wilkes-Barre location; LCA Founder and President Chris DeRose will be in attendance.


Circus animals do not willingly stand on their heads, jump through rings of fire, or ride bicycles. They don’t perform these tricks because they want to and they don’t do any of these meaningless acts in their natural habitat. The ONLY reason circus animals perform is because they are scared of what will happen to them if they don’t.

The circus would like you to think that these intelligent and sentient creatures perform because they are positively reinforced with food, praise etc. There is no such thing as positive reinforcement for animals in the circus - only varying levels of punishment, neglect, and deprivation. These animals have limited access to food and water as to will them to perform, as well as to prevent untimely defecation and urination while they are on stage or in public view.

An LCA investigator went undercover inside the Carson & Barnes Circus, where he documented extreme animal abuse, including elephants being beaten with baseball bats, pitchforks, and other objects; shocked with electric prods; and hit on the head and across the face. LCA worked with local media to expose this cruelty and filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture.

Cruel Training

Training circus animals involves physically punishing them. These training practices generally will be hidden from public view to make the audiences believe these animals want to and are willing to perform. Because these animals have been conditioned through violent training sessions, they know that refusal to obey in the ring will result in severe punishment later. Moments before entering the ring, while just outside of public view, trainers may give the elephants painful whacks or blows to remind them who’s in control and to ensure that the elephants perform the specified tricks on command.

Animals in the circus are routinely whipped, beaten with long metal rods, shocked with electric prods, and struck with clubs. Trainers often strike elephants with a bullhook or an ankus on the sensitive areas of their skin such as around their eyes, under their chin, inside their mouth, and behind their knees and ears. A bullhook is also sometimes used to hit animals across the face. Bears have their noses broken and their paws burned to teach them to walk on their hind legs. Carson & Barnes trainers have even been documented using blowtorches on elephants. Circuses easily get away with these cruel practices because no government agency monitors training sessions.


baby elephant training
Ringling baby elephant training

A number of animals are even drugged to make them more manageable. Others have their teeth removed; one group of chimpanzees had their teeth knocked out by a hammer. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus uses some of the worst training practices with elephants ever documented. Elephants have a very similar life cycle to humans and they care for their young much like we do. These captive elephants are forced to breed as young as 8 years old, that’s like breeding an 8 year old child. After the mother gives birth, tied by 3 legs the entire time, the babies are taken away immediately which causes the mother severe duress. Ringling Bros. chains the mother by all 4 legs to take the baby away so that the mother elephant won’t be able to hurt the trainers. Even before being weaned these baby elephants are put in a separate area from their mothers and are then chained for up to 23 hours a day. In the wild, elephants often nurse their babies until five years of age. Then the “correction process” for the baby elephants starts where they are tied up and beaten repeatedly to break their spirit. This training process is so brutal, that Ringling Bros. WILL NOT let their own PR department film the training of these baby elephants.

Ongoing Confinement

Ongoing travel means that circus animals are confined to boxcars, trailers, or trucks for days at a time in extremely hot and cold weather, often without access to basic necessities such as food, water, and veterinary care. Elephants, primates, big cats, and bears are confined to cramped, filthy cages in which they eat, drink, sleep, defecate, and urinate- all in the same place. The climates circus animals encounter during their exhaustive travels are often very different than that of their natural habitats. Bears are forced to endure extreme heat in the summer, and sometimes even walk across hot concrete on their way into the performing arena. Lions, on the other hand, find the cold very difficult to bear; some circus animals freeze to death.

The majority of circus elephants are captured in the wild. These wild elephants walk as much as 40 miles a day while in their natural habitat. Once captured, they are chained in one place for up to 23 hours a day. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus brags that it’s three units travel more than 25,000 miles as the circus tours the country for 11 months each year. Ringling Bros. own documents state that on average, elephants are chained for more than 26 hours straight and are sometimes continually chained for as many as 60 to 100 hours. When the animals arrive at their next destination, instead of being let off the railway cars immediately after arriving at the arena, they are sometimes forced to remain inside for hours despite extreme temperatures.

confined lions
Two large cats in cramped cage at Ringling Bros.

Abnormal Behavior

Ringling elephants and trainer

Elephants are very social creatures and they form tight bonds with their families and other elephants. They feel joy, compassion, sadness, and grief just like humans do. Many circus animals become dysfunctional, unhealthy, depressed, and aggressive as a result of unnatural and unrelenting confinement in which they are kept and treated. When these elephants have their babies taken away, that life long relationship is abruptly terminated and every moment, every natural instinct, and every natural behavior is subject to discipline.

ringling elephants and trainer
Ringling elephants and trainer

Some signs of abnormal behavior found in captive elephants include rocking, swaying, head-bobbing, or other repetitive movement. These behaviors are signs of extreme psychological distress. Elephants who are breathing with their mouths open are usually in pain. Captive large cats and bears pace back and forth and some bears have been known to beat their heads against their cages. Bar biting and self-mutilation are also common among circus animals, and is directly related to the stress caused by confinement.

Public Safety and Education

Wild animals behave instinctively and unpredictably. Circus animals have run amok through streets, crashed into buildings, attacked members of the public, and killed and injured handlers.

Additionally, some circus elephants have been diagnosed with a human strain of Tuberculosis (TB) and have passed it on to their handlers. Elephants in circuses are predisposed to TB because of routine transport that often exposes them to other infected elephants and because of stress factors, including severe punishment, constant confinement, inconsistent water quality and food supply, and poor nutrition. TB is an airborne disease which spreads through tiny droplets in the air. If TB 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 often allow members of the public to feed, pet, and ride the elephants which puts them at a great risk.

Observing circus animals teaches the public and children nothing about the natural behaviors of the animals. A lot of people mistakenly believe that captive breeding will help elephants and other species from becoming extinct. However, elephants that are born in the breeding centers of circuses can never be returned to the wild. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus operate under the umbrella of conservation. Ringling Bros. built a property in Florida that is known as “The Center for Elephant Conservation”. This “farm” is not open to the public. A former worker at Ringling’s elephant farm became a whistleblower on their training methods and took pictures and videos detailing the abuse. Gary Jacobson, the general manager of Ringling’s elephant farm, was filmed roping all four legs of baby elephants and then stretching their legs in every direction to force them to the ground and break their spirits.

LCA Speaking Up for Circus Animals

LCA and animal activists have protested Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses throughout the United States. LCA’s campaign against animals in circuses is dedicated to educating the public about the abuse circus animals suffer and working to get current footage and information to put an end to traveling animal circuses.

LCA needs volunteers to attend protests and to help film and photograph the circus. To volunteer, click here.

What You Can Do To Help

  • Do not visit circuses that use animals.
  • Write to circus sponsors and tell them you do not want to see wild animals in circuses, for the sake of the animals and the public.
  • Write letters to editors of local newspapers asking sponsors to stop supporting the circus.
  • Organize or attend a protest.
  • Support legislation protecting circus animals.
  • Report any possible violations of state and local animal protection laws to the police and animal control.

Circuses That Do NOT Use Animals (partial list)

  • Cirque du Soleil
  • The New Pickle Family Circus
  • Bindlestiff Family Circus
  • Circus Millennia
  • Circus Smirkus
  • Cirque Eloize
  • Circus Oz
  • Mexican International Circus
  • Cirque Ingenieux
  • Earth Circus
  • Fern Street Circus
  • Little Russian Circus
  • Neil Goldberg’s Circus
  • New Shanghai Circus
  • Circus Vargas

Los Angeles City Council Ban on Bullhooks on Elephants in Circuses that Travel to L.A.

October 23, 2013 - The Los Angeles City Council banned the use of bullhooks on elephants within its city limits. The new law goes into effect in 2017 and will bar traveling circuses like Ringling Bros. unless they develop more "humane training tactics."

LCA DOES NOT applaud the Los Angeles City Council for taking a step in the "right direction." It is the wrong direction for two reasons: 1.) the ban should have been a ban on circuses with wild animals and 2.) why is it we are always so graciously willing to wait "years" for laws to be implemented?

L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz had the audacity to say the ban was a SYMBOLIC victory. Tell that to the elephants who are beaten with bamboo sticks, bats, bull hooks and electric prods and made to perform through intimidation. Six cities in Southern California went for a total ban of wild animal circuses, why couldn't Los Angeles follow suit? It is not very gallant on our part as citizens to accept a ban that will go into effect in 2017; we aren't the ones that have to endure the suffering. Wild animals in circuses are wrong and it should be stopped now. This is LCA's position. It's easy to claim a shallow and useless victory to raise a lot of money but LCA is here for the animals and to implement REAL CHANGE for them.

Return to Animal Rights Articles