A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words: Cruelty to Baby Circus Elephants Exposed

This week a story in the Washington Post brought to light cruel and unusual training methods used on baby elephants at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which is run under Feld Entertainment.

Former elephant handler Sam Haddock came forward to deliver shocking photographs and a notarized report of his 18 years of experience training baby elephants at Ringling’s breeding center in Florida to PETA before passing away last month.

“This is the first time that the violent training methods used on baby elephants have been exposed in the United States, and with the biggest circus in the country,” said Debbie Leahy, director of captive animals rescue and enforcement for PETA.

“When someone like Sam Haddock says there’s a problem with what’s going on here, it’s from the perspective of someone who lived through it and participated in it. . . . It totally contradicts what the circus has been telling the public for years.”

Haddock recounted methods such as using ropes to pull a baby elephants off balance, while using bullhooks on their heads to teach them to lie down.  

With the goal of having Feld’s exhibitors license revoked, PETA has since filed a complaint with the USDA claiming that the evidence shows violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which Ringling, of course, disputes.

As the Post’s article also points out, this wasn’t someone who was working undercover. It was just a man taking photos of every day life at work. Haddock also cited himself as being an abuser. At the end of his report he stated that, “”Toward the end of my career . . . I stopped telling people what I did for a living. I was ashamed.”

As In Defense of Animals (IDA) points out, “While the photos of baby elephants tug at our hearts, every elephant performing in circuses today has endured the heartbreak and trauma exposed by Mr. Haddock and his photos. Whether kidnapped from their mothers in the wild, as most were, or born into captivity, every one of these elephants was torn from his or her mother, enduring unspeakable anguish and trauma as a result. As if that weren’t horrific enough, they were then subjected to brutal training, and they continue to be controlled through deprivation, restraint and fear of violent punishment.”

IDA has filed similar complaints with the USDA and is also currently fighting for baby elephants, like two and a half year old baby Val who has been performing for the Carson and Barnes Circus for about a year now.

To learn more and take action for elephants like baby Val, visit www.helpelephants.com

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Jennifer Grant
Jennifer Alvarez1 years ago

Thank you for sharing this devastating story.

Valentina R.
Valentina R2 years ago

Just BAN wild animals in circuses for good!

Anne L.
laurence h4 years ago

Poor animals :(

charlotte nichols

So cruel poor baby elephants :-(

Past Member
Katie D4 years ago

Give them a choice to put the animals in a sanctuary or make them pay a big fine and confiscate the animals and put them in a reputable sanctuary!!! And if that doesn't work shut them down and throw their butts in jail!!! This shouldn't only apply to circuses. It should apply to any place that makes a profit showing off animals for human pleasure!!! Have you ever been to a zoo and watched all the animals pacing back and forth because they are confined to their small concrete jungles!!!

Kayleigh Harter
Kayleigh Harter4 years ago

I don't understand how this is a shock to anyone. I've known since I was a little kid that circuses often mistreat their animals--it's why my parents never took me to a circus, and why I have no desire to attend one, ever. I'm glad this particular trainer finally came forward, because if nothing else it raises awareness among the general public, but it doesn't change my opinion of circuses in the least.

Also, I just realized this story is over three years old. Have there been any further developments?

Stella Nobrega-Garcia

Absolutely heartbreaking...

susan thornton
susan T4 years ago

Shameful and wicked behaviour, throw the bastards to the lions

Christinaalex Nicki
.4 years ago


Alicia N.
Alicia N4 years ago

BAN all places where animals are being abused for profit.!