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Learn More About Ringling Bros.’ Cruelty

Following years of public outrage and dwindling attendance, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus finally acquiesced: As of May 2016, elephants are no longer being used in its performances. But it was the writing on the wall, not the elephants’ welfare, that prompted the circus’s overdue decision, one that it had initially intended to implement in 2018. More municipalities around the country are banning bullhooks, heavy batons with a sharp steel hook on one end that Ringling still uses to beat elephants into submission—and still shamelessly defends.

Getting these highly intelligent, empathetic gentle giants off the road—and not chaining them inside hot, fetid boxcars for long, physically and psychologically grinding treks around the country—is a step forward, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Instead of sending the elephants to reputable sanctuaries to roam freely, socialize, and enjoy activities similar to those that they would have had access to in the wild, Feld Entertainment, Inc., which owns the circus, shipped them to its central Florida breeding and training compound, where they will be used for cancer experiments at the disingenuously named Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC)—though no elephant currently there or born there in the future will ever set foot in the wild or ease the plight of wild populations.

According to the sworn testimony of the facility’s general manager, some elephants are chained on concrete floors for up to 23 hours a day and sometimes for weeks on end—usually by one hind leg and one foreleg to prevent them from taking more than a step or two in any direction. In the wild, Asian elephants have home ranges in excess of 233 square miles. Elephants who are chained on hard surfaces are prone to arthritis, infection, and psychological stress. CEC records show that most of the elephants have foot or leg problems related to intensive restraint. Ultimately, chaining can lead to premature death.

Pregnant elephants at the CEC are chained by two or three legs for at least two weeks prior to their due dates. Shirley was chained by three legs when giving birth, as this video footage shows. Inspectors have found babies, who are forcibly separated from their frantic mothers, with large lesions on their legs caused by rope burns. One baby was kept in chains for four months, except for about 40 minutes a day when she was trained.

A PETA report revealed that elephants at the CEC are also beaten with bullhooks and shocked with electric prods.

The CEC is also a hotbed of tuberculosis and has been placed under a series of government-mandated quarantines. Multiple elephants at the CEC have had active tuberculosis, and dozens are likely to be carrying the disease, according to reactive blood test results. Tuberculosis is highly transmissible between elephants and humans, even without direct contact.

The risk of contracting tuberculosis wasn’t all that was awaiting the elephants in Florida. A 2-year-old elephant named Mike, the youngest at the CEC, died in January 2016 from elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a disease that affects 24 percent of elephant calves and kills 80 percent of those who develop it. Scientific research suggests that they are susceptible to EEHV because of the stress of captivity.

Elephants who have endured years of suffering deserve better, including an opportunity for physical and mental rehabilitation. That is impossible at the “conservation” center.

While the elephants are getting a small measure of relief, the lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, pigs, kangaroos, llamas, and other animals Ringling still exploits are doomed to miserable lives of suffering and deprivation.

The big cats, who are whipped in order to coerce them into performing tricks, are often hauled around the country in barren cages that leave barely enough room for them to stand up and turn around. Instead of getting to exercise and play, they’re forced to live in one small area where they eat, drink, sleep, and defecate. The only “relief” many of them get is during their brief performances, when they are subjected to whippings and loud crowds.