The following is sworn testimony from two ex-Ringling's employees to the United States Department of Agriculture and Congress.
Glen D. Ewell, Ringling employee, Blue Unit, 10/98 - 12/98:
I've seen Benjamin and Shirley (another baby elephant) being beaten with the bullhook by Pat at least five times since I've been with Ringling Bros.
Randy took a bullhook and began beating Nicole in the head, on the trunk and behind the front foot ... until the handle of the bullhook shattered. Adam began beating her on the lumbar and hindquarter area on the right side.
Nicole was severly beaten by Randy and Adam because she performed poorly.
She (Karen) refused to stretch out and Randy, Adam, Pat and Steve all took bullhooks and began beating her ... the beating continued after she went down.
I resigned from Ringling Bros. because I could no longer tolerate the abuse the elephants were receiving.
Tom Rider, Ringling employee, Blue Unit, 6/97-11/99:
Whenever the USDA inspected the circus, the circus always knew in advance that they were coming. We were always told to clean up, don't hit the elephants when they come around.
When I became disturbed about the treatment of the elephants, the continual beatings, including the baby Benjamin, I was told, "That's discipline."
Courtenays Testimony - She has given permission to post all this. (She is a member of this group)
"I worked for the Carson and Barnes circus for a year in the nineties, and have some real horror stories...way beyond what they show on television! I chose my username because my favorite elephant was a tall, moody girl named Alta. I'm sure she is still with that circus, I wish I could help her. We had a lovely elephant named Mona, who had a malformed or more probably injured back that made her look unusually tall and humpbacked. She could barely get around and moved very slowly so she didn't perform, instead she stood in the chains all day...and never got in trouble thank god. I had left the circus and was living in Indiana when Carson and Barnes visited Evansville, where I was living. Mona had fallen out of the truck and injured herself and so the circus dropped her off at the zoo there..the same one where Bunny was living. She died there, away from her family, and when I volunteered to work at the zoo later they told me Mona seemed to know that she was not going to walk again and just gave up. It is a shame she could not have been rescued, I think she would have lived another 20 years if she had been...she just wasn't able to climb in and out of semi-trailers twice a day. That circus has another elephant ( they have about 23 in total) named Dolly that is similarly crippled, and has had an extremely tragic life...and they were talking about using her as a ride elephant, dear god I hope they didn't, she was blind and would swing at you with her trunk if you came too near, She need to be in a refuge BADLY."
"Sad to say, using the bullhook in the rectum, vagina and on the breasts, is common, it was one of the things they did to Margaret- They did it to Opal one day and she cried( whimpered) when she peed for a couple of days. They will get a hook in from the rear between the legs and yank upwards as hard as possible, it bleeds like crazy when they do this."
This is (left to right) Tracy, Kelly, and Becky, the three elephants that appeared in the Frisco undercover video. Tracy was the cutest elephant I've ever seen, and I was even told by a trainer that she was a 'good elephant' which is high praise indeed from one of those guys...
Becky was forced to perform on an infected foot. and limped slowly and painfully, while they jabbed her and yelled at her to get her going.
"Just imagine the things I didn't see...alot goes on after dark at the circus-many of these men were sex offenders in the first place...there were rumors of men having favorite horses...and worse"
"I guess that over the years I have become 'accustomed' to the images in my head, it must be really shocking to hear about these things for the first time. The thing that made it all worse, was knowing the elephants personally. seeing their very complex personalities and unnervingly human reactions to things being done to them..and to be able to do nothing. On my first or second day with the show, we were still at winter quarters, I was without anything to do and I was just wandering around observing. The elephants were out in 'the yard', a small area behind the barn that they would put the ellys in when they needed to clear some manure out. They were put on a picket, just as they were in the barn and everywhere else they went. I noticed one elephant had a rock and was striking her chain with it. She would lay the rock down, as if to reposition it, and then pick it up and continue striking at the chain. This elephant had an extra set of chain bracelets on her front legs, and I was told later that this was Barbara, and that she wore those chains as she was a 'runner'. They told me that she once broke her chains and then removed the hinges from the barn door, laid it aside, carefully put aside all of the tools and things in the way, and then ate all the grain stores, making herself sick. She was also the one that broke loose one day several years ago, set two of her friends free, and then together they escaped to Hugo lake and were at large for several days before they actually had to call in a big game hunter to track them down!
To anyone who may think that an elephant is smart in the way that an exceptional dog is smart, tales like these might sound fabricated...I didn't really believe the things I saw either, I mean, to believe it was to face the fact that an animal with a sentient mind and human emotions was being treated so horrifically...it was very disturbing.
I have many more stories like these and I feel that the more widely they are told the better. I have been telling them for years, and have turned more than a few people against the circus in that time. I really am so glad that I have found this site and I definite
I definitely want anything I say to be passed around, by whatever venue. Please feel free to use my name or whatever I say on your site! Now if we could just get it onto the billboard at Times Square....."
Many days were so muddy, the trucks couldn't drive into place themselves, so they had the elephants do it. I often saw them straining so hard you could hear popping noises in their legs, and they would shake from the exertion, sometimes they would slip and go down in the mud, and the handlers would club them to get them up, no mercy. After a morning of this they would be so tired their heads would droop, then Suzy would do two shows (after helping to erect the tent), give rides for hours, tear down the show, which had a number of tasks shared between the four "tent ellies", Suzy, Barbara, Minnie, and Bunny. Kay was one, but they retired her from it a couple of months before she died.), and then pull trucks back out of the mud, after they'd settled deep into it for a few hours.
She is the new herd matriarch, and now the oldest girl on the show, in her 50s. Suzy was intense and imposing, and often was in trouble, I saw her beaten several times.
Suzy had humanlike eyes, a small chin that gave her a granny appearance, and seemed very intelligent, and unhappy.
A more recent photo of poor old Suzy, still giving rides....she and Alta were (are?) the main ride elephants. See Suzy fiddling with the rope, she always did that, she would untie knots if she got the chance (they would club her if they caught her playing with props like that). She could also remove the cap from the gas tanks of the semis, and she would drink all of the fuel, spray it around, then get sick later. Once I watched as she bit down on a can of silver spray paint she had snatched, you could hear it pop when she bit it, and paint blew up all over her face and mouth. She dropped the can and began rubbing her mouth with her trunk tip, and squeeking pitifully, while her handlers stood around and laughed at her, but didn't offer her water.
One of the veteran elephant handlers was coming out of his truck, and stopped and had a disagreement with another employee, during which they argued heatedly. Afterwards, when the other employee walked away, the handler turned around and began hitting Opal, one of the C&B elephants, on the face and head with a hook with all his anger and strength..for no reason but that he was mad...I saw another, violent elephant handler do the same thing one day, as he too was coming out of his bunk...he was trying to nap, apparently, and was annoyed by the jingling of the chains caused by the racking of the elephants..he came storming out of his bunk with a baseball bat, and began clubbing Suzy on the head with it, and calling her filthy names..he hit her so hard she went to her knees, the echo from him hitting her skull went right through the pit of my stomach.
"The Carson and Barnes Circus has it's winter quarters in the small town of Hugo, Oklahoma, a town where my grandfather was Mayor, and where I spent most of my teenage years. Hugo called itself 'circus town USA' and I went to school with several performers children, some of them performers themselves, as well as with the daughters of the owners Gary and Barbara Byrd. One of my friends in high school was an elephant rider who was the daughter of David Rawls, the owner of the Kelly-Miller circus, a smaller offshoot of C&B. So to was almost natural that at some point I would join, it was the only job left in town, anyway. When I first joined, the show was still at winter quarters, doing repairs and creating the new props for the next season. I didn't have much to do and mainly just ran around observing those first few days. I remember seeing the bullhooks hanging in the barn and asking what they were used for and the handlers just laughing. I was so excited that day when I heard they were going to be putting Kelly-Millers three elephants through their paces that day in the big barn...I climbed up in the loft to get a great Arial view. The handler walked the elephants in and I saw he had a pocketful of carrots...then he immediately screamed " alright you f*****g b*******s MOVE UP!!!! It got worse from there, he hit them constantly even though they were doing their best, and called them filthy names. I was shocked when Viola, a young African who did a cute little wave with her trunk, began crying at one point, for which she was struck over the face repeatedly. This went on for the whole 45 minutes or so that he was working them...oh, and he never gave them a single carrot. I was to soon find out that this was the daily reality for the elephants, much of it alot worse."
A letter written to a circus patron who denied seeing abuse while visiting, this was Tosti's response:
"Alright, well I DID work there, and not only is it as bad as they say it is, it is in fact, worse. Lengthy conversations between me and Carson and Barnes elephant handlers made it clear that daily abuse, insufficient diet, exposure to weather extremes and shortened life spans were par for the course at any circus, not just Carson and Barnes. The brutal training methods are standard procedure. Not just to take their word for it, I also witnessed these things, ad-nauseum, on a daily basis. Despite whatever you think you saw, the elephants are NOT bathed on a daily basis, if ever. In fact, if an elephant were to attempt to even spray itself with water it was beaten, as a muddy elephant would mess up the costumes of the riders. Who said they were kept in cramped cages? They are, for the most part, kept chained front and back legs to a picket line, unable to move. Are you going to refute the pictures and video of this? Do you really think these pictures are fabricated?
I don't have to be licensed to inspect elephants to see them limping on infected feet, bleeding from bull-hook inflicted wounds and wounds that have developed in the cracks of their dry skin. I don't need to be an expert to know that elephants need something other than hay and sweet grain in their daily diets.
Who are you? Did you work for Ringling or Clyde Beatty? If you were just visiting they were putting their best face forward. Carson and Barnes employees were instructed to keep their use of the bullhook to a minimum when the animal rights people were there. They would put on a phony show of feeding the elephants bread and lettuce, they would even pat the elephants as if they cared, but it was all bogus. Circus people are talented con artists and could make the layman believe whatever they wanted them to. You fell for it, good for you.
By the way, I am not an activist. I eat meat, I wear leather. I do not go out and picket pet shops. I do however, carry with me the terrible images of elephants being beaten until they fell down and urinated on themselves. I worked alongside the animals at C&B and I cannot forget the deaths of Nelson, the Siberian Tiger, Kay, the elephant, Rick, the horse, and the four-horned sheep who was put away in a hot trailer and allowed to die without treatment while having difficult labor. What about Mona, the elephant crippled in her youth, barely able to walk yet kept touring with the show for years until she fell out of the truck twice and was mortally injured, then abandoned at a zoo to die? All of these animals deaths were untimely, suspicious and occurred within a few months of each other. Kati, the pygmy hippo, who was not given water to lay in and whose skin was cracked and bloody-do I need to be an expert to know that hippos need water? Our hippo from the previous year died prematurely, as well.
Families getting to sit for a couple of hours and watch animals do silly tricks is not worth this kind of carnage, I hope you can sleep well knowing that you have stood up for the abuse of animals for your entertainment.
People in the circus industry can be ruthless and mob-like in dealing with their enemies. Do you think I would risk my well-being coming forward about this if I didn't know it were really going on? Like they said, watch the C&B training video, then come back on here and refute what you saw, I dare you.
This is ( left to right) Margaret, Paula, Mona and Dolly.
Margaret is the elephant I watched receive a terrible beating involving 8 men with baseball bats and bullhooks. They attacked her for nearly an hour, until she fell on her face, she wailed like a baby, and urinated and defecated in fear. They stuffed mud into her wounds and she performed in the show that night as if nothing had happened.
Paula was the subject more than one USDA citations, concerning her ongoing, untreated skin condition. Paula was a 'runner', and not allowed to perform, instead she stood in the chains, all day...
Mona is the elephant left to die at the Mesker Park Zoo after falling out of the trailer twice and being mortally injured. Mona was crippled in her youth during a brutal training session, and could only walk with a humpback, taking tiny steps. She was unable to perform and stood in the chains, all day.
Dolly was a recent addition to the lineup in 1994, acquired from another show that was going out of business. Dolly was old, and very arthritic, unable to move above a snails pace. Dolly face was slumped from an injury from a bullhook, she was senile and apt to try to smash you if you came too near. Her handler, Danny B., was thinking of making her a ride elephant.
"Mona was an Asian ele with C&B, who from what I was told by a handler was crippled during her early training, which as you know is so harsh, some baby eles don't even survive it.(the elephant death list records her as having metabolic bone disease, but....I don't believe it.) Mona stood in a strange humpbacked manner, with her back standing about 4 feet higher than the other eles. There was a worn spot in the roof of the trailer where she rode, from her back brushing it for years. Mona was unable to perform or even walk very well, taking very slow, painstaking steps. Even so, she was expected to climb in and out of the trailer, with no patience shown her, and then she stood in the chains all day...that was her whole life. She was so helpless, they would occasionally let her off the picket, and she would stay right around the showgrounds..you'd be running along to work or whatever and you'd run smack into her. She was totally harmless, one of many of their eles that was completely tame and sweet, and not considered a risk to the public.
Mona had developed rotten feet just like Calle, and so many others, from spending so many long years standing immobile in her own waste, they soaked her feet but it wasn't helping any.
Mona fell out of the trailer once, and they got her up but she did it again a few days later and was severely injured, I'm not sure what the exact injuries where, though. I had JUST quit the show, and gone back to Evansville to live, when they arrived there with Mona and left her at Mesker Park Zoo, where Bunny was still living.
I later volunteered at the zoo, and the ele handlers were interested in talking to me. They told me the C&B handlers just sort of stood around like idiots when they were trying to get Mona out of the sling to see if she was going to be able to stand. The said at some point she just sort of stood back on her hind legs and backed out of it, and this was unusual, she was a smart ele.
The circus went on without Mona, and she was dead soon after, I still assume she was euthanized, although one of Bunny's caretakers said she was extremely depressed and just died. I don't know, though."
This is Carson and Barnes Bunny, once handled by a young Johnny Walker. http://img36.imageshack.us/img36/7269/bunny.jpg
Bunny had a large boil on her knee from a hook wound. She is a very sweet elephant. She sure is looking rough, poor thing...
" I have been holding a novels worth of stories in for years now, and I promised the elephants that I would try to help them someday, so I would like to get my info out. I know that sounds corny but after getting to know what sentient beings the elephants were, and then watching them get beaten on a daily basis, I began to get REAL emotional. It is why I eventually quit."
This is Minnie, she was one of the 'old girls' (Kay,Barb,Suzy,and Minnie) She was also one of the 5 elephants that were used to do the heavy labor of erecting the tent, putting up the seats, dragging semi haulers into place, out of, and into itanda myriad other jobs, also doing the 2 daily shows. It seemed obvious to me that Minnie found many of the tricks painful, shaking her head and crying out during the long mount, and the crawl.
She was pretty, with unusual, up-turned eyes, and a very sweet, almost, childish, personality.
"During the year traveling circuses often intersect each other and more than one circus stopped and 'visited' with Carson and Barnes. Culpepper- Meriwether was one of them, and I just remember checking them out to see if maybe their elephants had it any better than ours...they didn't. They were chained front and back just like ours were. They were struck continually and cursed at, just like ours were. They were thin and dehydrated, just like ours. The article mentioned that the handlers were saying that the elephants clearly could have overturned the trailer and broken their chains but that they didn't because they were so happy...truth is the reason they don't is that they are very intelligent and know that to escape would only mean being gunned down. many of the older elephants had seen this happen themselves, and I feel they may have passed it on to the younger elephants. I'm certain that many of the elephants who finally lose it and rampage, such as with Tyke, have made a conscious decision to commit suicide. Also notice that even in a crowded tent it is usually only the elephants handlers that get killed. These elephants don't want to hurt anybody..but when they do they choose their victim for good reasons."
"All of the ellys would suffer in cold weather, we would tour every state, including Idaho, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. The poor, naked elephants didn't sway back and forth in these climates, they stood, heads down, huddled together. The Rhino, Goliath, was left out in the cold weather and he would lay unmoving at the back of his pen-this would be in sub-zero weather, we would be frozen in several layers of clothing, imagine how these naked animals must have felt. Sometimes, if it was especially cold they would load the elephants back into the trailers after the show, but I doubt it was much warmer that way and besides, 5 elephants packed into a trailer for endless hours....need I say more?"
This is Gogo (Goliath), a sweet, puppy dog of a rhino, who I would stop and scratch around the eye (the only soft part on a rhino) every day. He lived in this tiny, filthy box, and was left out even in icy weather, when he would huddle against the back of the cage. Every few years, the rhino would die, or become too large..I don't know what they did with them, the rumor was they shot them and buried them out behind winterquarters..after keeping their head or skin, or horn, to decorate their homes and offices. Note where employees have been cutting off chunks of horn, as souvenirs.
"4 or 5 years ago a series of cable programs was coming on (either discovery or TLC) titled, "the secret life of;" and it would be about different professions, the one I am talking about was "the secret life of- the circus and sideshow." The featured circus was Carson and Barnes. I remember Frisco clearly now, because he was the Animal Supervisor in the show, which was filmed in about 1999. He was standing there with MARGARET, and talking about how she was a 'crazy girl' and so on. She was the elephant I saw receive the gang beating! I was like "who the **** is that guy, and I was so mad, you could tell he was an even bigger creep than Carr."
This is Rosie, one of my faves because she was so unusual looking, her head being twice the size of the other bulls heads. Rosie did her best, but was very sad in her demeanor.
Rosie's head was twice the size of those of the other ellies, but her body wasn't, she was one who had become a zombie
"Was somebody saying that they read that Kay died at 60? I was just looking in the 1993 route book for C&B and it has her age as being 46, and she died the next year. I think that they may have lied about the actual ages of the ellys in these books, they also have Barbara and Suzie as being 46 and 45, when in fact they were younger than Kay. The route books are sold to the circus goers..I guess if the public knew they were using a 60 year old elephant to push and pull semi trucks into place in the mud and to put up the tent, some may object? That's like using your old grandmother to push your car out of the mud!"
This is Zack(they called all their zebras Zack, in fact, they reused names with most of the menagerie animals) Poor Zack would do this desperate prance/pace thing, bouncing back and forth on his front legs, for hours, wanting to run wild on the savannah. His pen was also tiny. He froze so badly in the winter he had icicles all over his body. He only like women, and few women at that. He would let me in his pen, and I'd scratch his ears. He bit my shoe once, fooling around, and it leaked after that.
"I used to visit Bunny everyday when there was no one there in the evening, and feed her oranges! She was the only elephant, I don't know for how long but you could tell that she had begun to go a little crazy as some elephants do after years of loneliness and beatings. I see from her pictures that her sores look somewhat better, I am so glad for her. Now if we could just get some other elephants I love rescued...."
"The elephants at Carson and Barnes live on a steady diet of hay and sweet grain (sweet feed). Elephants need whole, green vegetation, fruits and the larger variety of foods that they would encounter foraging. Many of .C&B's elephants are bloated, with pinched faces and thin legs, they have terrible gas and they also had terrible body odor, partly from living in their own filth. The elephants drink only as much as the handlers would let them, before they got bored and I saw the elephants being forced away from the water more than once. They aren't allowed to spray water on their backs, nor do they ever get to lay in water, so they have very thick, flaky dry skin that you could hear scratching as they would go by. I watched a very sweet elly named Minnie stuffing mud into some cracks in her skin one day, when it had rained so much that there water standing in the tent. She was looking around as if afraid to be caught, and the only reason she got a chance to do it in the first place was because the muddy conditions made things chaos and her handler was preoccupied. Sometimes the cracks would ooze blood, and there would be flies in the sores, and the handlers would use the wounds as a spot to inflict pain, making the wound worse. It's no wonder that many performing elephants have numerous scars and warts, which grow up around wounds that aren't being allowed to heal."
"Trust me you guys, Frisco is nothing special as far as how mean a trainer can be. They are ALL just like him, it's hard to believe but I've seen worse. "
This photo is of an elephant handler named Reggie L. (on the right), who was a very brutal, abusive man, he was Altas handler, in the 90s. I've seen him hit elephants with baseball bats for jingling their chains, I've seen him take part in gang beatings in which several men surround an elephant and beat it with bats and bullhooks for nearly an hour. And yes, I've seen him hit camels with the hook, as well.
Kim...you commented on the extra long bullhooks, there was a reason for them....one of Okies favored methods of controlling an elephant, was to sink the hook on the backbone or top of the head, then HANG from it, literally with his feet off the ground, to try to unbalance the bull. I saw Suzy get confused and disoriented one muddy day when she was clearly exhausted from pulling trucks..Okie was hitting her and she began pivoting on her hind legs in a circle, with Okie hanging off of her head, his legs flying out as she turned, John John came and started whacking her and they got her going in the right direction. I remember the look on her face, it was just pure fatigue and confusion, I felt so bad for her..its one of my most painful memories from that time.
"Dolly was a newly acquired elephant at Carson and Barnes, in 1994. She was small, dark, arthritic and had one eye that hung lower than the other. I was told that she had had a tragic life, including nearly drowning and more than one truck accident. It took her several minutes just to get out of the truck and to step over the picket lines to be chained. She was 'insane' and would swing blindly at whoever walked by, and she would end up hitting the side of the trailer instead with a big bang! Her assigned handler, an idiot named Danny Barnes, was actually talking about making her a ride elephant!! My question is, is anybody here familiar with the current lineup of elephants at C&B, and would know any info on Dolly? She was an elephant in need of being retired...badly
This is (left to right) Tony and Christie, two young Africans I see getting into trouble later, like Tyke....., Mona, then Dolly, who's face you can see hangs on the left side, from a beating. I cant say if this is the same Dolly or not, I see the one in the photo is small, like the Dolly at C&B. C&B only acquired her because some other circus was selling out (I think) and they wanted to have as many ellies as possible, for the spectacle.
That's 'John John' Frazier, one of the men involved in the Margaret beating, and one of the meanest men I've ever met. This photo is from the routebook the year I was there, 1994, a lot of time has gone by, only God knows if Dolly could still be alive.
Bunny and Kay, you can see Bunny's huge bullhook boil in this photo.
Using their heads to push trucks out of the mud, these trucks may be stuck to the tops of their wheels. This is Barbara and Paul D.
This is Barbara and Paul D. He was a veteran handler, and had been with C&B for many years under Okie Carr. I saw him turn and clobber Opal over the face with his hook, because he was mad at another employee. I was 'friends' with this guy, and got to hear all kinds of horror stories from him.
Barbara was the third oldest girl, one of the 'big four' (Kay, Barbara, Minnie and Suzy) She was labeled a runner, being one of the ellies that escaped to the lake in Hugo (despite what the Hugo News reported). She normally wore a special extra pair of chain bracelets, to make it easier to secure her if she ran again. She very much had a mind of her own. Her big, light brown eyes made her look youthful, though she was in her 50s, in the 90s. She looks old here though, just look at her poor nails.
This is a drawing Courtenay did after witnessing this gang beating of Opal:
"Elephants are so massive that even a light brush of their trunk, or as misplaced step can be damaging or even fatal. Incidences of men being crushed between elephants and trailer walls are common. I always kind of felt like the elephants have found a way to kill handlers while making it look like an accident. That may sound like anthropomorphization but if you knew just how smart they really are it wouldn't surprise you. An elephant can feel an insect land on it's skin, so you know it can feel a man crushed into its side.
I don't think you are a bad person for feeling that way. I used to secretly hope that Alta would 'accidentally' kill her handler, an especially brutal man, and get him out of her misery. It was often said that Kay had killed 13 handlers in her time, and I'm certain each and every one of them completely deserved it. I don't think that animals have a concept of things artificial and unnatural, I really think that they view us as another animal, a cruel, confusing animal with intentions beyond their comprehension. I doubt that animals such as the big cats and the hoofed animals think about it much at all, they seem to accept their fate, but I am convinced that elephants ponder many things deeply, such as death, love and what the deal with humans is...can you imagine being torn between knowing that you are going to spend the rest of your life in chains, being tortured on a daily basis, or, if you decide to break out, that you will ultimately just be brought back-or gunned down? No wonder so many of the elephants at Carson and Barnes were insane..you could see it in their eyes.
I remember watching Suzy one day, she had her eyes closed and she was wringing her trunk in tight knots and would occasionally thump the ground with it, hard. To me, it looked as if she were just overwrought with frustration and sadness...sometimes you would see one of them standing there with tears pouring out of their eyes for no apparent reason, in fact it was seeing Alta do this one day that really began to disturb me about the whole thing, and made me start watching their behavior more closely. The 'crazy' ones, like Kay and Dolly, didn't seem to flinch any more when they were struck, they just stood and rocked endlessly, and stared out at nothing. They were the scary ones too, you got the feeling that they might squish you without even thinking about it."
January 26, 2004
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Courtenay Tosti (formerly Courtenay Warren). I worked at Carson & Barnes Circus C& during 1993 when I was 21 years old. The following is an account of what I witnessed while working at the circus.
Many of the people working at C&B were on the run from something they had done. I was warned to be careful when I joined as 2 workers had supposedly killed their wives, and were known to brutalize women. My boss, John "JB" Brooks, cursed at me constantly and frequently hit me.
The Millers, who own the circus, had various skins and skulls of deceased performing animals, including a tiger skin and a hippo skull, decorating their homes and offices.
Owners told me that I would be sorry if I ever told what I saw. Based on what I had heard and the tone used by my superiors, I felt as if they were threatening me with physical harm. When I stood crying as they dumped the body of Nelson, a Siberian tiger, into a trash bin Gary Byrd approached me and said that if I knew what was good for me I would keep quiet.
All of the animals were stressed out much of the time, and some of them got very aggressive. Margaret, the elephant, chased a man up a pole, tried on numerous occasions to karate-kick me as she would go past, and was always in trouble.
A member of the prop crew got too close to the tiger cage one night and a tiger grabbed the boys head with his paw and inflicted deep wounds. I saw the injured boy right after the attack, he was sitting on a chair, with his head between his knees, blood was pouring out of a couple of large holes in his head.
The owners and handlers knew how dangerous the animals were. However, that did not stop them from putting the animals near the spectators. Even certain elephants who were known to have killed people and were considered "insane" were not kept away from the public. It was very easy for the public to approach the elephants on the picket line from the rear, which startles them, and as I was in the security department I was frequently forced to make entire families leave the elephants area, where they would bring their children right up to the chained elephants to pet them, oblivious to how deadly this could be. If no one was watching closely people would often duck the useless barriers in front of the Cat Cages and approach the big cats, sometimes holding their children up for a better look.
I never saw a vet attend to any animals when they were on the road.
While having a difficult birth, a four-horned sheep was put into a hot trailer and left alone. She could be heard screaming but no one attended her, she died.
A wallaby had open, festering wounds and was not provided with vet care.
A horse, Rick, was allowed to eat moldy hay and died.
A Siberian tiger, Nelson, was ill, supposedly from pneumonia, and laid down in the chute as it was no longer able to stand. Several handlers stabbed at him with bullhooks to get him to move. He was not given vet care, and died soon thereafter. His body was picked up by a front-end loader and dumped in a trash bin. I was told that his skin would be kept.
A pygmy hippo, Katy, was not given water to lay in, and her back was cracked and bloody. I inquired about this and was told that a pygmy was not a 'water hippo', and that water only irritated her back. The hippo from the year before died at a young age.
Animals were often left out in the hot sun, the rain, and in extreme temperatures, sometimes below freezing. I saw Goliath, a white rhinoceros, huddled against the back of his cage trying to stay warm. I saw the zebra, standing head down, shivering in the snow.
The elephants were not allowed to cover th
cover themselves with mud or water because it would mess up the performers uniforms. Their skin was very dry and cracked, and would often bleed. If they attempted to throw water on their backs they were beaten.
The elephants were only fed hay and sweet feed, which caused them to suffer digestive problems, including diarrhea.
All of the elephant handlers went into the barn at winter quarters to blow torch the hair off the elephants, which could tear a performers uniform. They would
All of the elephant handlers went into the barn at winter quarters to blow torch the hair off the elephants, which could tear a performers uniform. They would close the doors but you could hear the elephants screaming, and smell the burning hair and skin. I later saw black marks on the elephants bodies. When I asked about it I was told it was from the blow-torching, but that it 'didn't hurt'.
It was well known that new handlers were taught to be mean and aggressive to the animals. When they were not mean enough, they were reprimanded, taken off animal duty, or fired. I witnessed one handler, Oakie Carrs son-in-law, harshly criticizing a new elephant handler for not being more aggressive with Bunny, the elephant in his charge.
I often saw camels being hit and one time I saw a handler, Reggie Lindsey, curse at a camel and whack it on its hind legs, with his bullhook.
The handlers took great pride in concocting newer and more violent torture devices. They would put nails and hooks into baseball bats. They would put larger hooks, the type used by firemen to tear open walls, into the creation of their bullhooks. Their devices put ordinary bullhooks to shame.
I observed one practice training session in the barn at the winter quarters. The trainer struck the elephants over and over, and called them filthy names. They were struck on their eyes and genital areas.
Elephants were constantly beaten every day. The handlers yanked and stabbed at them with the hook, and hit them with baseball bats. This was done because the elephants did not respond quickly enough to a command, because the elephants were doing something that annoyed the handlers, like playing with the picket line, and often for no apparent reason.
An elephant named Mona, reputedly crippled during her training, had severe back problems but continued to travel with the circus until she fell out of the trailer twice and was mortally injured.
Alta, one of the elephants Reggie Lindsey was in charge of, turned and ran out of the tent during the show, knocking cars out of her way. She was brought back and beaten severely by Lindsey. Lindsey often beat her, and she ran like this more than once.
Becky the elephant was forced to perform when she had a painful foot infection. She walked very slowly with a limp, and was struck and yelled at to get her to move more quickly.
Despite suffering from arthritis, Minnie was forced to do the routine called the long mount where all the elephants stand propped on each others backs in a row. Each time she did it she would wince, shake her head and scream in pain.
Margaret was an elephant who was often in trouble. In order to teach her a lesson, 6 or 7 elephant handlers surrounded her and began beating her ruthlessly as she was chained front and back legs. Some of them stabbed at her legs to keep her off balance while one beat her over the head with a baseball bat until she was bloody. She fell forward and started crying, shaking, urinating and defecating. It went on for several minutes.
Kay, a matriarchal elephant well into her fifties was very sick with kidney problems. She was forced to perform even though she was very ill. She died while the circus was performing in Taylorville, Ill. She was standing and since she was chained to the picket line, her body just tilted forward. All of the other elephants became hysterical and were screaming and trying to touch her and offer assistance, but they couldn't move because they, too, were chained.
I have heard the animals agonizing cries for help go unanswered. I have heard the circus people lie to the public about how the animals are treated. I share this information in hopes that the public will understand the degree of immense pain and suffering, beatings and neglect, and illnesses and deaths that circus animals experience on a regular basis and refuse to support it.
Testimony of Tom Rider, former circus employee
HR 2929 - Safety of Elephants in Circuses (June 2000)
Testimony of Tom Rider
600 East Holland
Washington, IL 61571
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I am Tom Rider, a former circus employee. I worked with Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus in 1997 as an elephant keeper and I loaded the children for the elephant ride. The elephant which we used, Pete or Petunia, was considered to be a dangerous animal and we were cautioned not to go near her. Despite this, she was used for rides before the show and during intermission, carrying as many as ten children at a time on her back. She was surrounded by people waiting to ride. The only barrier between her and the public was a plastic net fence.
Typically during elephant rides, the handler walks in front of the elephant as she carries the riders on her back. If the elephant decides to wander off, it would take at least a few minutes for any handler to regain control. Since the elephant is surrounded by people, literally, there would be no way to prevent serious injuries if she decided to take off like the elephant in Florida. It never ceased to amaze me that the circus would tell people to put their children on an elephant's back when they knew how dangerous the elephant was.
I left Beatty Cole because in White Plains, New York, when Pete did not perform her act properly, she was taken to the tent, laid down, and five trainers beat her with bullhooks. Pete is now dead.
After I left Beatty Cole, I went to work for Ringling Brothers Circus in Austin, Texas. I was hired as a barn man's assistant and, two months later, I became the afternoon barn man. In that capacity, I was present during the majority of the performances.
During my two and a half years' employment with the circus, I was slammed between two elephants while I was working in the stockcars. Even though the elephants were chained, they are capable of doing incredible damage and most of the staff had similar incidents. It was very common to be stepped on, hit by the tail or injured in other ways just because of the sheer size and power of the elephant. My experiences have left me with considerable respect for the damage that elephants can do even unintentionally.
We had an elephant named Karen who was labeled "killer," yet she was kept on the road performing because she was a good performing elephant. Although she was the most dangerous elephant in the group, she is the one they used in the three-ring adventure where the public is allowed to stand around the elephant with no safety net or other protection around her. Karen had a habit of knocking anyone who came into range, slamming them into the ground, yet they allowed her to have contact with the audience.
While I worked for Ringling Brothers, I heard stories all the time about dangerous elephants and how they could kill you if you got too close. One of the top trainers for the circus had been killed by one of his elephants and a lot of the handlers were hit while they were working around them. I was injured in the eye when an elephant slammed me with her tail and I have been slammed a few times while working around them.
After my three years working with elephants in the circus, I can tell you that they live in confinement and they are beaten all the time when they don't perform properly. That makes them dangerous and they want to get away.
My first experience with an elephant running was in Tupelo, Mississippi, when were on the elephant walk returning to the train and a cattle truck stopped to let us pass. Karen , who was in the front, was startled by the cattle and she, Minnie, and Mysore took off running straight down the road. Luckily, it was at night and there were some police cars in their path which stopped them and the trainer was able to catch them. If this had occurred during the day, with a lot of public around, it would have caused a lot of injury to innocent people.
Another time, in Ottawa, Canada, in the afternoon, I was alone and the elephants were contained behind their electric fence. I was approximately 75 yards away cleaning when I heard an elephant scream. When I turned around, I saw three elephants fighting and two others were heading for the horse tent, having broken through the fence. Since I was alone, I was unable to control the situation. It took about five minutes before I could get help and another five minutes before we could begin to regain control. During this time, if the elephants had run in a different direction and had not moved toward the horses, they would have been right in the middle of the public.
My experiences with the circus has convinced me that, because of the way they live and are trained, elephants are extremely dangerous and should not be around the public. I also know firsthand that the circus keeps the danger and the public exposure well hidden and we were cautioned never to let the public know if anything goes wrong. We could have lost our jobs if we had ever reported to the USDA or others any incidents that put the public at risk.
When I became disturbed about the treatment of the elephants, the continual beatings, including the baby Benjamin, I was told, "That's discipline." On another occasion, I was confronted by my supervisor that I was overheard on the train saying I was going to report the beatings of the baby Benjamin to the USDA. It was common knowledge that I was the one who complained about the treatment of the elephants.
Whenever the USDA inspected the circus, the circus always knew in advance that they were coming. We were always told to clean up, don't hit the elephants when they come around. I know for a fact that any attempt by the USDA to regulate the circus or to enforce laws is a joke. I was present at many inspections where the inspectors never saw the marks on the elephants from the bullhooks and the beatings. Obviously, they would not be able to regulate a situation that they see only two or three times a year.
In closing, I would like to quote from the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Animal Care Manual:
"Remember that exotic animals can be trained, but not tamed, and they can be dangerous to people and to each other."
Thank you for your time.
The following is a statement issued by former Ringling Bros. performer, Kelly Tansy: "On my very first day with the circus, I witnessed animal cruelty. I saw an elephant being beaten in what appeared to be a disciplinary action. The beating was so severe that the elephant screamed. I have come to realize, through all the circuses that I have worked for, that mistreatment of animals is a standard part of training and is thought to be a "necessary" part of exhibiting them. I have seen chimps locked in small cages constantly when not performing; elephants chained continuously; and even animals being beaten during performances. You won't find these quotes in circus programs anymore, but one well-known elephant trainer stated in the 1978 Ringling program that, according to his father, "An elephant trainer must have a strong back, a weak mind, and a savage disposition." Another trainer, when asked if it was necessary to use force and electricity to train an elephant said, "It sure as hell is. Don't let nobody tell you any different. It's the only way to deal with an elephant." Since leaving the circus, I have educated myself about natural animal behaviors. There is no way that an animal can even begin to fulfill a decent life while traveling on the road with the circus."8
Rider worked as an elephant keeper with the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. Circus in 1997, later working as the afternoon barn man for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.
In his testimony, Rider told the story of Pete, one of the elephants at the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. Circus.
The circus considered Pete to be a dangerous animal, Rider claimed, and circus employees were advised not to go near the elephant. Despite that, Pete was used in the circus for giving children rides.
According to Rider’s testimony, he witnessed "in White Plains, N.Y., when Pete did not perform her act properly, she was taken to the tent, laid down and five trainers beat her with bullhooks. Pete is now dead."
Rider also testified that he witnessed elephants at Ringling Bros. being beaten with a bullhook, or ankus, a tool commonly used in elephant training.
"After my three years working with elephants in the circus, I can tell you that they live in confinement and they are beaten all the time when they don’t perform properly. That makes them dangerous and they want to get away."
March 2, 2006
The Honorable Mary Ann Smith
City Hall Office
121 N. LaSalle St., Rm. 300 Chicago, IL 60602
Dear Alderman Smith,
As a former employee of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, I would like to express my strong support for the elephant-protection ordinance that would ban the use of bullhooks, electric prods, and chaining.
As a professional dancer and someone who has always loved elephants, I auditioned for Ringling in 1981 and was soon hired as a dancer. I toured with the Blue Unit and worked for the circus for two years. Although I realize that my experiences are dated, some things never change: Elephants suffered in the circus then, and they still do today.
Of all the animals used in the circus, the elephants received the worst treatment. The people who handled the elephants were uneducated, typically transients hired off the street. In fact, one had just gotten out of prison. The elephants were beaten every single day. I complained internally, even to Kenneth Feld. I complained to the USDA and the humane society, but nothing was ever done. These are some of the incidents that haunt me to this day:
• One elephant had a huge infected boil that covered half her leg. Even though the veterinarian recommended that she not perform, they made her perform anyway.
• During one show, an elephant was beaten with bullhooks because she stumbled and tripped, falling to the floor.
• Sophie was one of the younger elephants, a teenager at the time. The wounds covering her body from constant beatings were horrible.
• One baby elephant ran amok and smashed through a wall at a civic center. She was confused and terrified. She was severely beaten.
• Circus workers used a gray powder to hide the bloody wounds on the elephants that had been caused by the bullhook’s sharp point.
The elephants were chained constantly when not performing and kept rocking back and forth. Because they were chained so close together, they would have to take turns lying down to sleep because they could not all lie down at the same time.
Handlers always carried bullhooks, and you could see the fear and rage in the elephants’ eyes. When I complained about the cruelty, the handlers made a point of hitting and hooking the elephants whenever I walked by to taunt me.
Today, I am still a dancer. I taught ballet at the University of Idaho and will soon be taking over as artistic director at the Allegro School of Dance in Charlestown, W.V. During my dancing career, I have performed in Chicago several times and have fond memories of the city. I hope that the city of Chicago will be the one to finally put an end to the abuse that I witnessed day in and day out for two years but was helpless to stop. I left the circus because I could not take it any more, but the elephants cannot leave. They need caring legislators to relegate the circus’s reign of terror for elephants to history books covering less enlightened times.
Posted: Tuesday April 4, 2006, 10:45 am
Echo ELES (264)
Friday June 18, 2010, 10:13 am
The following is a guest post from blogger and former Ringling clown André du Broc
I've spent much of my life in careers centered around making others happy. As an actor, I believed that my first responsibility was to the audience. They needed to be delighted and engaged by everything that I did on stage. This was particularly true of my time as a circus clown. If an audience's joy depended on my dropping my pants, I dropped my pants. If it meant taking a pie in the face three times a day, so be it. Many may have thought that these actions were undignified. I saw it as doing my job well. It brought me great satisfaction to see families sitting together in a crowded stadium and smiling from ear to ear.
Every Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show begins with the ringmaster's announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Children of all ages!"
I love that thought. From the beginning of the show, the audience is told to leave adulthood at the door. Be a kid again. Laugh. Smile. Enjoy!
The veneer of the circus was everything I desired in a career. It was a chance to make masses of people happy, a chance to travel all over, and an opportunity to take my silliness very seriously. What I found backstage, however, was very different. My goal is not to write an exposé of everything that happened backstage at Ringling. My former work as a circus clown has carried me far and opened a lot of doors for me over the years, and for that I am very grateful. But there was a world behind the curtain that I was not equipped to handle.
Audiences come to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth ("Big Bertha" to circus folks) primarily to see two things—clowns and elephants.
I spent most of my time with the elephants. In Tampa, I had a roommate who was an elephant trainer for a local zoo, so I had a deep fondness for these massive animals. If you look into the eyes of an elephant, you can't help but remark at their soulfulness. They are filled with expression. When an elephant is happy, you can tell at a glance. Back in Tampa, when the elephants were allowed to play in the water, their eyes would twinkle, their bodies would waddle, and their trunks would curl up, pulling their large mouths into an unmistakable smile. They looked like they were having fun. They were happy.
I never saw the elephants in the circus make that face. They looked tired, weary, frustrated, angry, and so very sad. I stopped one of the assistant elephant handlers to ask why a particular elephant had tears pouring down the sides of her face. He laughed, "'Cause she's a bitch and the bitch got what was coming to her." He then pointed to the welt on the side of his face from where she had slapped him with her trunk. He then showed me his bullhook, a 2-foot-long stick with a metal hook on the end that is used to train elephants. "I gave her about 10 good whacks across her skull. Bam! Bam! Bam!" he demonstrated. "Bitch'll think twice before she messes with me." This brutal assistant handler had never received any formal training in dealing with elephants. His job was simply to keep them fed, watered, and in line.
I remember that there was always a bullhook in the corner of the apartment back in Tampa. The metal hook had a blunt, rounded tip. My roommate had explained that it was used to hook the inside of where the mouth and trunk met. You give it a slight tug and the elephant will move in that direction. I witnessed many of the Ringling trainers sitting in circles, sharpening their bullhooks to dangerous points. They wanted the elephants to fear them, and the best way to do that was to inflict as much pain as possible.
Each of these great animals were looking at a lifetime of being chained to a wall, beaten, and marched out briefly to perform. Unlike those I left in Tampa, they would never roll in the grass or enjoy playing in the water.
The largest of the elephants, King Tusk, had a particularly sad story. When he first came to Ringling from another circus in 1986, he was the largest traveling land mammal alive. At 42 years old, weighing 14,762 pounds, standing 12 feet 6 inches tall, and sporting a length of 27 feet, King Tusk (Tommy) was a spectacular being. In the wild, elephants are constantly rubbing down their tusks to reduce the weight carried by their head. Tommy, however, had been prohibited from doing so for 42 years, and this had allowed his tusks to grow unacceptably long. In fact, where cracks would form along the tusk, metal bands were installed to keep them from breaking. His tusks were more than 7 feet long and put enormous weight and strain on his back. He had arthritis in his neck and back, and by the time I joined the circus in 1992, he could no longer perform any tricks.
Instead of retiring this great elephant with dignity and shaving down his tusks so that he could live out his remaining years in comfort, Ringling would have him simply stand in the center ring while two acrobats performed on his back.
Tommy was finally transferred to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in 1998 after spending 51 years of his life performing in circuses. According to Two Tails Ranch's records, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium sent him to live out his remaining years at their elephant facility in Florida, where at 57 years of age he was finally euthanized just before Christmas in 2002.
I am grateful for the experiences that I had in the circus. I learned about who I am as a person, an entertainer, and a clown. I learned so much and had amazing, exciting, and terrific experiences. Most importantly, I learned what dignity means. I filled my steamer trunk with plenty of it as I rolled it out of Clown Alley and away from the Big Top forever.
I will not go to a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show or any other Feld Entertainment production ever again.
Tommy would have wanted it that way.
André du Broc graduated from Clown College in the fall of 1992 and went on the road with Ringling's blue unit in late October. He left the circus about a month later because he could no longer bear to witness the horrific treatment and living conditions of the animals. André maintains a blog at toomanycookies.wordpress.com.
Claudia Elliott (40)
Friday June 18, 2010, 3:15 pm
Thanks for sharing your stories of truth and horror that the elephants face when enslaved to the circus. I commend and salute yous. Elephants are not domesticated animals and never can be nor slaves to any human or organization. We must fight against elephant slavery and the different forms of abuse that is enfilcted upon them to illegalize it.
Jean Carroll (1)
Tuesday March 27, 2012, 2:10 pm
I don't think this is the right picture - please change!
This is Suzy, overworked, undernourished, old and dry, beaten regularly...she is the picture of circus elephant misery
Gaya, the Bucharest
mangled by dogs Thursday,
Romania: Gaya, the
Elephant, mangled by
death, a combination of
present employees of
Bucharest Zoo say t...
For me, I think its time
for a fun new group.If
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fascinated at the whole
thing, please join in.I
also want to add 4 other
co hosts.The Legendary
Young circus activist on
Nickelodeon this sunday
Friday, 8:01 PM
am just watching this
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ACTIVISM -anti war, anti
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kids going to t...
Message: what's going on?... by Apolonia P.
— \\nZEN was suspended by
Eric with no warning. We
don\\\'t know any reasons
nor how long it will
about it on the forum but
my post was immediately
deleted. 2 threads and
petitions about Zen also.
And 2 her help-groups.
:-(\\r\\nUntill to... more
Message: Petitions that stop abuse to the speechless by Aza A.
— \\nCan someone please
tell me why petitions
that want to end animal
abuse,end the on going
pain being inflected on
the poor helpless
animals. Paim that only
ends when the animal
dies.\\r\\nIs it that the
23 plus million members
don\\\'t care or
understand ... more
Message: Thanks by Gail B.
— \\nThank you all for the
warm welcome, still learn
how to use the
grounds you set your feet
upon be blessed every
step of the way.\\n more
Message: My Daughter's Friend Needs Help by Cameron F.
— \\nThis is Venus
Marquez\\\'s friend, Gina
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Message: Free Puppy Ads In Terrifying Abundance! by Karen O.
— I was so upset, when on
my homepage, in the news
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