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%u2019 young elephants have died: Kenny, Benjamin, Ricardo, and Bertha. 

In January 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (%u201CUSDA%u201D) 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 %u201Cremain in the barn.%u201D Within an hour of his last appearance in the circus, Kenny died.

In January 1999, USDA inspectors observed %u201Clarge visible lesions%u201D 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 %u201Croutine separation process%u201D that Ringling Brothers uses to separate baby elephants from their mothers at its %u201CCenter for Elephant Conservation%u201D %u2013 i.e., with the use of ropes around the baby elephants%u2019 legs, they force the nursing elephants away from their mothers, so they can start %u201Ctraining%u201D them for use in the circus. The USDA concluded that this practice caused the animals %u201Ctrauma, behavioral stress, physical harm and unnecessary discomfort.%u201D       

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 %u2013 two baby elephants %u2013 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%u2019s use of the bull hook %u201Ccreated behavioral stress and trauma which precipitated in the physical harm and ultimate death of the animal.%u201D

On August 5, 2004, an eight-month old elephant named Ricardo died at Ringling Brother%u2019s breeding facility %u2013 the Center for Elephant Conservation. Ringling Brothers claims that this young elephant %u201Cfell%u201D off a tub while playing, broke both his legs, and had to be euthanized. These same %u201Ctubs%u201D are used for many of the tricks the elephants are made to perform in the circus %u2013 and it is likely that Ricardo was being trained to do these tricks (with a bull hook) when he %u201Cfell.%u201D

On August 11, 2005, an eleven-day old elephant named Bertha died during surgery on the floor of Ringling Brother%u2019s breeding facility. In sharp contrast to its usual practice, Ringling Brothers had not announced the birth of  Bertha %u2013 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.


Recent Accounts of Mistreatment

Although these are numerous eye-witness accounts and video tapes of Ringling%u2019s routine mistreatment of elephants, spanning many years, some of the most recent incidents include:

Spring/ Summer 2006:  Before a crowd of Ringling Brothers%u2019 employees, one of the head elephant trainers on the Red Unit beat an elephant for over twenty minutes, at one point using two bull hooks on the elephant until she was bleeding.  Two former Ringling Brothers employees who witnessed this beating are now speaking up about the abuse they witnessed at the circus.  For more information click here Former Ringling Brothers Employees Speak Out

Summer 2006:  Two Ringling Brothers elephants at the breeding facility in Florida tested positive for tuberculosis and the facility was placed under a partial quarantine by government officials.

Summer 2005:  A baby elephant named Bertha died during surgery at Ringling Brothers%u2019 breeding facility.     

2004: An activist caught on tape a Ringling Brothers elephant handler beating a young elephant named Angelica.

2000:  Video footage taken in San Francisco, California at Cow Palace shows Blue Unit head elephant trainer Troy Metzler striking a young elephant on the trunk, other handlers hitting elephants with bull hooks and brooms, pinching them with pliers, and brandishing their bull hooks in front of the elephants. 

August 25, 2001:  A San Jose Police Officer cited Ringling Brothers%u2019 trainer Mark Oliver Gebel, son of legendary Ringling trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams, with violating California animal abuse laws by striking an elephant with a bull hook. The Officer reported that Gebel %u201Clunged at the elephant with his ankus,%u201D before taking her into a performance. Immediately after the performance, the Officer and two Santa Clara Valley Humane agents reported that the elephant had a bloody spot on her leg where she had been jabbed with the ankus. Gebel was later found "not guilty" of animal cruelty by a Santa Clara jury.

March 2000:  Tom Rider, who worked as a barn man for Ringling Brothers for 2-1/2 years, left the circus. In sworn testimony presented to the USDA, Mr. Rider reported that the elephants were chained for as long as 23 hours a day, and that Ringling Brothers routinely beats and hits the elephants, including the babies, with bullhooks. Mr. Rider reported that, at one point, he counted more than a dozen bullhook wounds on each of two older elephants, %u201CZeena%u201D and %u201CRebecca.%u201D Click here to read Tom Rider's USDA Affidavit.

February 1999:  While conducting an unannounced inspection at the Ringling Brothers%u2019 %u201CCenter for Elephant Conservation%u201D in Florida, inspectors for the U.S. Department of Agriculture observed %u201Clarge visible lesions%u201D on the rear legs of two baby elephants, Doc and Angelica. These lesions were approximately 6 inches long and an inch wide. When the inspectors inquired about these wounds, they were informed by Ringling Brothers employees that they were caused by rope burns during the %u201Croutine%u201D separation process from the babies%u2019 mothers. They were further informed that the babies, who were only 18 months old, had been forcibly dragged away from their mothers a month earlier, with the use of ropes around each leg and a chain around their necks. After convening a panel of elephant experts, in May 1999 the USDA informed Ringling Brothers that this treatment violates the Animal Welfare Act and causes the animals %u201Ctrauma, behavioral stress, physical harm and unnecessary discomfort.%u201D

August 1999:  Inspectors for the Santa Clara Valley Humane Society in San Jose California reported seven Ringling Brothers elephants with multiple lacerations and puncture wounds behind their left ears %u2013 the location where former Ringling Brothers employees say elephants are routinely hit with bull hooks.  Another humane officer who attended each of the performances that week reported %u201Cthat some of the elephants had punctures and lacerations on various areas of their bodies, which included the foreleg, trunk, and behind the left ear.%u201D

December 1998: Two Ringling Brothers%u2019 employees, Glenn Ewell and James Strechon, quit Ringling Brothers.  In sworn testimony provided to the USDA, they reported that elephants were chained for most of the day, and that Ringling Brothers%u2019 handlers and trainers severely beat and hook elephants with bull hooks on the head, ears, ankles, and other parts of their bodies, and that they often draw blood. Both men also testified that they saw the baby %u201CBenjamin%u201D severely beaten many times. The men also reported that at least one particularly severe beating of an older elephant took place in front of a high-level Ringling Brothers manager, who did nothing to stop it.

We are not asleep, we are watching you.  We are not monsters, we are human beings.  We will not rest until you are called, legally, to put an end to the torture you inflict upon innocent beings for money.  We will continue to raise our voices, we will continue to fight through peaceful channels, and even as drops of water wear down stone, we will, one beautiful and glorious day, see an end to this tragic, horrendous crime against all that is good in humanity.  WE ARE NOT ASLEEP.  WE ARE WATCHING YOU.  WE WILL NOT REST UNTIL YOU PUT AN END TO THE TORTURE.  WE WILL CONTINUE TO RAISE OUR VOICES... what begins as a whisper rises to a shout, a shout that will not end until your torture ends.  WE ARE NOT ASLEEP.  Below, a link to an affidavit from ONE trainer who worked for your so-called "training" facility.
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