"Please never take your children to a Ringling Brothers circus."
--Archele Hundley, former Ringling Brothers employee
I received an e-mail alert last night from Karen Dawn's Dawnwatch. The e-mail described an article in Sunday's New York Times, heralding the arrival of an extremely important and long-awaited federal court case, where a coalition of animal rights advocates hopes to finally hold Ringling Brothers and their parent company legally accountable for their long and horrendous record of animal abuse.
According to Dawnwatch, "The plaintiffs are suing largely under the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits harming a member of an endangered species. They seek 'an injunction barring the circus from chaining the elephants for long stretches' and from hitting them with bullhooks."
Elephants will not perform tricks without these cruel methods, so if the court rules in favor of the animals, it could mean an end to elephants in the circus altogether, which would be a tremendous victory, not only for elephants and other circus animals, but for nothing less than Justice itself.
Ringling Brothers will have a hard time denying the claims of abuse and mistreatment, considering that former employees (who left in disgust and sadness at the horrors they witnessed) have already come forward to offer their stories to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
According to a website produced by PETA, www.circuses.com, government documents show that Ringling’s elephants suffer abuse and die prematurely, that the circus has been cited for more than 100 deficiencies in animal care, and that most of its elephants (contrary to Ringling's claims) were captured in the wild.
Two former Ringling employees contacted PETA independently with allegations of routine abuse in the circus. Archele Hundley left Ringling in 2006 after just two months, and Bob Tom, who worked on the same unit for two years, was fired in August 2006, allegedly for complaining about the beatings. Here is what they have said about what they witnessed:
- Elephants are so terrified of the trainers that they begin urinating, defecating, and trumpeting in fear at the sound of their voices.
- Elephants are aggressively hooked on a daily basis, and handlers rub dirt into bloody bullhook wounds to conceal them from the public.
- Elephants suffering from arthritis are kept on the road.
- Elephants are only unchained when the public is around.
- The circus knows in advance when U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors are coming for what are supposed to be unannounced inspections.
"The abuse was not just once in a while—it occurred every day," says Hundley. "The elephants, horses, and camels were hit, punched, beaten, and whipped by everyone from the head of animal care down to inexperienced animal handlers hired out of homeless shelters."
Keeping wild animals in captivity and forcing them to do unnatural tricks for our entertainment is barbaric, and it's high time for this cruelty to end. In other countries including Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland, and Singapore, the use of animals in entertainment has been banned or restricted.
"The idea that it is funny to see wild animals coerced into acting like clumsy humans, or thrilling to see powerful beasts reduced to cringing cowards by a whipcracking trainer is primitive and medieval. It stems from the old idea that we are superior to other species and have the right to hold dominion over them."
—Dr. Desmond Morris, anthropologist, animal behaviorist, author
Elephants have been on the planet for 60 million years. There once were about 160 species. Now, there are only three.
In the wild, young elephants stay with their families for many years. It's not unusual for a herd of elephants to live together all of their lives, and they often live to the age of seventy, if allowed to survive. These gentle giants are such a source of joy, when witnessed in their natural environment. If we, or our children, want to see the wonderful world of elephants, we can rent a DVD such as Planet Earth by the BBC (where animals are filmed in the wild from a distance), and we can see what delightful animals they are when left in peace to care for their young and live their lives as nature intended.
I hope this court case will bring the facts into the open once and for all, so that people from all walks of life will understand the truth of this issue, and we can finally put this practice where it belongs: In the past. If so, February 4th will forever be a day of celebration, and I hope with all my heart that it will lead to a time when every elephant in every circus will be retired to a sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their days in the peace they so richly deserve.