Ringling Brothers circus elephants mistreatment


Elephant Mistreatment At Ringling Brothers

As former Ringling Brothers employees have described, there is a culture of abuse at the circus that includes the constant use of bull hooks and other weapons on the elephants and keeping the elephants chained for most of their lives.


The Mistreatment and Deaths of Baby Elephants

While Ringling Brothers touts its successful breeding program as the answer to the declining population of elephants in the wild, in recent years at least four of Ringling Brothers’ young elephants have died: Kenny, Benjamin, Ricardo, and Bertha. 

In January 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) charged Ringling Brothers with multiple violations of  the Animal Welfare Act in connection with its decision to have a three-year old elephant named Kenny appear in three different shows in one day even though he was extremely ill and the attending veterinarian had advised that he “remain in the barn.” Within an hour of his last appearance in the circus, Kenny died.

In January 1999, USDA inspectors observed “large visible lesions” on the legs of two baby elephants less than two years old -- Doc and Angelica. According to Ringling Brothers own personnel, the wounds resulted from the “routine separation process” that Ringling Brothers uses to separate baby elephants from their mothers at its “Center for Elephant Conservation” – i.e., with the use of ropes around the baby elephants’ legs, they force the nursing elephants away from their mothers, so they can start “training” them for use in the circus. The USDA concluded that this practice caused the animals “trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm and unnecessary discomfort.”       

On July 26, 1999, a four-year old elephant named Benjamin died in a pond.  Ringling Brothers elephant trainer Pat Harned took Benjamin and Shirley – two baby elephants – to swim in a pond one morning while the circus was on the road. Elephants are naturally excellent swimmers and both babies loved the opportunity to play in the water. When Pat Harned called for Shirley to come out of the water she obeyed, but when he told Benjamin to come out, he refused and kept on swimming. Eye witness accounts reported that Pat Harned then went to the end of the pier and started hitting Benjamin with a bull hook, and that when Benjamin swam to the other end of the pond to escape, Harned went into the water after him with the bull hook in hand. Benjamin then had a heart attack and drowned. According to an official USDA Report, the trainer’s use of the bull hook “created behavioral stress and trauma which precipitated in the physical harm and ultimate death of the animal.”

On August 5, 2004, an eight-month old elephant named Ricardo died at Ringling Brother’s breeding facility – the Center for Elephant Conservation. Ringling Brothers claims that this young elephant “fell” off a tub while playing, broke both his legs, and had to be euthanized. However, at a subsequent trial against the circus under the Endangered Species Act, Ricardo's trainer, Gary Jacobson, admitted under cross-examination that Richardo was being "trained to get on the tub" when he fell and broke his legs. Mr. Jacobson also admitted that this "training" involved the use of a bull hook and a rope that was tied around Ricardo's trunk.

On August 11, 2005, an eleven-day old elephant named Bertha died during surgery on the floor of Ringling Brother’s breeding facility. In sharp contrast to its usual practice, Ringling Brothers had not announced the birth of  Bertha – and her existence and death only came to light when animal groups submitted requests under the Freedom of Information Act to the USDA about Ringling.

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