Ringling Bros Circus has been a well known traveling circus since 1884. It wasn't until 1907 that the Ringling brothers bought Barnum and Bailey Circus, and they didn't merge until 1919. At the time, Ringling distinguished themselves from other circuses with their honest and fair attitude towards the public, however, they have since dropped the honest part.

       Talking about the circus always brings controversy. The circus claims that their animals always receive the utmost care and that they perform stunts that they do in the wild. Recently they have spoken highly of their conservation program, however inspection reports from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) show otherwise. Inappropriate housing, poor sanitation, causing physical harm, behavioral stress and animal escapes are just a few instances of non compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.

        The most recent event involving Sarah, a 54 year old Asian elephant, could have been prevented. On Sunday, Aug 6, 2011, Sarah was filmed falling from the ramp leading into the train, and collapsing to the ground where she stayed for an estimated 10 minutes. According to a routine inspection on June 10, 2011 by the USDA, Sarah's medical records were reviewed and had shown that she has been ill since, at least, April 12, 2011. The exam performed in April was concluded to show Sarah had open pyometra, or an infection of the uterus causing a discharge from the vulva. She was to be placed on antibiotics. On 6/5/11 it was noted that the discharge did not stop and they were to rinse the vulva twice daily. The handlers had not been following those instructions. Open pyometra is fatal if not treated.

        Ringling opened The Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC) in 1995. Although Ringling speaks highly of its conservation efforts, the CEC facility is more of a breeding farm. Even though most of the facility is undisturbed natural habitat, most of the elephants are kept confined and chained in cement barns. Ringling boasts that their retired elephants live an average of 70 years, however the oldest elephant to die at the facility was 62 years old. The actual average for the reported deaths of 24 elephants between 1992 and 2011 is in fact 39 years.  That is not including the 5 elephants of unknown age that were not reported. Of their 23 births at CEC, 4 have already died. Two had not yet reached their first birthday and the other two hadn't made it to five years.

         The CEC facility has been quarantined more than once for tuberculosis. Most of their traveling elephants have either contracted the disease or have been in contact with another elephant with it. In 2006, two of Ringlings elephants were diagnosed with the human form of tuberculosis and at least one person working with the elephants has died from contracting it. Three elephants that died at CEC were found to have tuberculosis during the necropsies. In 2010, the state of Tennessee denied entry to Karen, an elephant who had tested positive for the disease. Tuberculosis is deadly if left untreated.

       Ringling says that all the behaviors performed by the elephants are ones they do naturally in the wild. Ringling claims elephants will stand on their heads when digging for water, which is a twisted version of the truth. African elephants will use their tusks to dig, but their hind legs never leave the ground therefore not standing on their heads. Female Asians, used by Ringling, do not have tusks. Ringling claims that the elephants stand on their legs to reach the tops of trees. In reality, if the elephant’s trunk cannot reach what the elephant wants, the tree gets knocked over.

         Even if the behaviors were natural, the way Ringling trains the animals is a very cruel and stressful procedure. When the young elephants are not even old enough to be away from their mothers, they are chained and anchored to another adult to be dragged away. The babies are tethered on all four legs and forced, with the help of a sharp bull hook, into the unnatural positions. In the case of young Riccardo, the training cost him his life. At only 8 months old he was forced to learn behaviors on a circus pedestal. He fell off the pedestal, fracturing both hind legs and had to be euthanized. The elephants quickly learn that the bull hook causes pain.

         While documenting the elephants and handlers, I have personally seen the elephants lean away from the bull hook and have documented them being struck with it. The handlers claim it to be an extension of their arm, but I have seen the sharp hook and documented blood being drawn due to this "extension." I've not only witnessed the elephants being hit, but also the horses and a longhorn. To support the circus is to support animal abuse. It is time to retire the animal acts and support non animal circuses. ~