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Ringling’s Treatment of Baby Elephants

Written by PETA | January 15, 2010

The following is a guest post from Joyce Poole, co-founder of Elephant Voices—an organization whose aim is to increase awareness of the intelligence and wonder of elephants. Joyce has a Ph.D. in elephant behavior from Cambridge University and has studied the social behavior and communication of elephants for more than 30 years. She was an expert witness in the recent trial against Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus. This post originally appeared on ElephantVoices’ blog.

In the final days of December, in the case against Ringling Bros. Circus for their abuse of elephants, Judge Sullivan ruled against animal welfare advocates on technical grounds. He did not address the merits of the case nor the expert opinions that we spent years preparing and weeks presenting in court.

This is a hollow victory for Ringling; It certainly isn’t a vindication of their brutal training and management practices. The trial brought into the public domain the depth of abuse practiced by the circus. This particular battle has been lost, but although Ringling might think they have achieved a victory, they have in fact been significantly wounded. The war will yet be won as more and more people give their own verdict.

Ironically, the judgment was announced just days after additional abuse of baby elephants surfaced—this time one of Ringling Bros.’ own employees blew the whistle, ashamed by his own treatment of baby elephants. You can read and see some of the horrific photos in the Washington Post‘s coverage here.

I reviewed reams of evidence against Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus as an expert witness, so I am well acquainted with their abusive treatment of elephants. Yet, the late Samuel Haddock’s description of the babies’ screaming and the harrowing images of their straining against the ropes and chains and being poked, prodded, and manhandled brought tears to my eyes.


tethered baby elephant


The only reason why a bullhook has a steel point is to inflict pain. Deprivation, force, and pain form the basis of the training that baby elephants undergo to perform in the circus. Thereafter, restraint, deprivation, and attempts to avoid pain keep elephants in circuses under constant control.

Elephants in circuses are mere commodities for human entertainment: Prevented from behaving naturally and forced to perform behaviors never seen in nature, they are bought and sold, poked and prodded, separated from companions, confined, and chained on concrete and on trains. It is insincere to allow children to believe that elephants in circuses are living an acceptable life when the evidence for the opposite is overwhelming.

Ringling’s treatment of elephants is outdated, ignorant, and inhumane. Progressive Norway intends to ban the use of elephants in circuses. India has already done so. Isn’t it time for America and other so-called enlightened countries to follow suit?

Written by Joyce Poole

Commenting is closed.
  • Tina says:

    Continued from above Watching these elephants was like tortureshocking and disturbing. The fact that these elephants are allowed to perform after taking all that abuse and torture is unspeakable. But more sick are the trainers beating them and the fact that they are leading them out to all those children and familes. Any circus that allows this are putting our children and families in danger. Yes folks this what is happening behind the dark circus curtain. A day will come when we will pay attention when those poor elephants lose their broken minds and possible kill or injury these children and families. Somehow I pray we could all find a way to come together and stop the torture of these amazing beautiful creature for greed. I feel after observing these videos it was more than obvious that these elephants are slowly having the life tortured out of them. I could see that the elephants were trying to touch each other with their trunks as a way of consuliing one another and desparte to be together. I observed the trainer hit them when they would reach for each and keep to try to keep them apart until it’s showtime and then these mean trainers finally minipulate them by allowing them finally to touch so they will perform. Why and who is letting this happen in our country? We are going to put a end to this because we are a better country and we need to be a example to others don’t you think?

  • tina says:

    Tragedy!!!This is sick just think these elephants no after being tortured now they head out on stage to put on some fake performance and to make matters worse and even more of a tragedy those of you who paid for the circus tickets are sitting out there with your kids teaching your children this kind of entertainment is great so we go back to the circle of kids do what they are taught so could you imagine your kid thinking all this is so cool and he or she could be working in a circus torturing these poor defenseless animals that we have no right to do this it is making us look like monsters in this country so what did we fight for in this country FREEDOM! Free all the circus animals!!

  • Marquise Toomer says:

    I dont like seening that elephan like that it hurts me to see something like that

  • Pressiana says:

    poor animals. it makes me so sad and i just do not understand how people can do this awful thing to them. Why can’t they just leave them alone?!

  • Dee says:

    This could end when people STOP going to the circus. When the circus comes to town post pictures and info fliers of the cruelty everywhere like public restrooms etc. where people will see them. Tell your friends why they shouldn’t go. Little by little we can make a difference!

  • carla says:

    when will the human race grow up? When??????

  • Diane says:

    Stop criticizing the judge his decision unfortunately was legally correct. If you want to do something tell everyone you know about this issue. The more people know about this abuse the sooner it will stop. If you know anyone who is a Boston University alumnus or student have them send a letter protesting Kenneth Feld’s he owns Ringling position as a trustee at BU.

  • Jessica Carlson says:

    Circuses should be banned! People need to understand what happens to these animals “behind the scenes”.

  • Debi Mills says:

    Peta and the Humane Society “enlightened” me on the horrific abuse of circus animals. I rips my heart out knowing these poor animals have no rights whatsoever. I constantly speak on the behalf of animal abuse to all who will listen. I inform companies that sell circus tickets that they are condoning animal abuse. I pray soon that people become aware of this abuse and refuse to support the circuses. As always its about money greed.

  • brooklynn guiterrez says:

    this is fed up. using inhumane objectives for entertainment. does the world have any conscience anymore??!

  • AmyR says:

    I recently found out that my company sells discount tickets to Ringling. I’m going to inform them of exactly what they are supporting. I’m going to fight this!

  • klarasun says:

    Maybe only a few followed the trial or they think now everything is ok after Ringling won or that it was an exceptional case. Show them the picture again and again nobody should be able to ignore it.

  • Maureen says:

    Mother Nature gave life and it wasn’t exclusive to humans. We are nothing on the grand scale of things and the way we treat our fellow inhabitants of this planet will have a price. Those baby elephants have the same feelings as baby humans!

  • maria c johnson says:

    We as a society have fail to recognize the rights of every living creature. If we continue to fallow this path and fail to act in order to protect the planet and its creatures…we are all doomed.

  • dalene de jager says:

    God is so good t keep on forgiving the human for all they’re doing to His creationsmaybe all the natural disasters is our punishment for not taking best care of what He entrusted to us

  • Tina says:

    These people are sick how can they do that!!? This makes me wanna puke .These poor animals and eveyone wonders why elephants are attacking cirus trainers and why snake bites people.And why dogs attack humans and why sharks attack humans!! Karma What is it gonna take for people to learn?? Leave these animals aolne there not bothering you stop harrassing them how would you like to be eaten tied around and be used for entertainement?? LEAVE THESE ANIMALS ALONE!

  • Heather says:

    Thank you Joyce Poole and “Elephant Voices”. You are trully an inspiration to all of usRaising awareness and making a difference and no matter the outcome look at all the people who are now aware of this who weren’t before. I want to thank you so much. You and your team are wonderful people. When terrible people cannot feel the remorse for the neglet and abuse they cause justice WILL prevail. Thank you for making me aware.

  • Abby says:

    I’ve read the judge’s decision. It wasn’t just “technical grounds”the judge ruled there was no legal injury that can be addressed in a lawsuit. He ruled that Tom Rider had no credibility about anything including the abuses he claims he was upset to witness. The judge did not address the expert testimony on either side meaning not just that the animal rights experts were ignored in the opinion but so were the circus’. But the judge said that there is no ground for a private lawsuit against the circus for its treatment of elephants. No animal rights group has standing to bring a lawsuit ever again. To say that’s a hollow victory for Ringling doesn’t make much senseit was a total victory. The judge found that you can’t even sue them. So now the only options are to either convince people not to go to the circus so that Ringling loses money which according to the publicity during the trial has not happenedprofits have risen not dropped over the past years or to get the laws changed not going to court but relying on major changes in the legislative arena.

  • John says:

    Unfortunately rich animal profiteers do know how to manipulate the weaker minds in our court system Money rules too often but the truth will prevail

  • susan says:

    Will this ever end?Looks like Ringling must be paying off the judges because how can anyone in their right mind allow this torture to continue.I hope Mr. Sullivan rots in hell!

  • klarasun says:

    I hope everybody read the NY Times and keeps the picture in mind the next time he watches elephants walking on two legs… meanwhile it’s no secret that they normally don’t do any tricks in nature and that they got brutal training before. Who still likes these awful elephant shows?

  • kathy smith says:

    someday we will all face Gods judgement. I pray that in the name of Jesus all animal abuse will stop. I pray that the people doing the abusing will experience an annointing of Gods Spirit that will convict them to stop these horific acts.

  • Dave says:

    As my late Father always said ”Man” is fing up this planet and how right he was as are all of the comments ahead of mine. Of the hundreds of species of animals that have become extinct over the last hundred years or so again down to mans greed it comes as no surprise to me the length’s that some so called ”humans” will go to in the name of entertainment. However this vile treatment of baby elephants was a real eye opener to me and as many people may feel that one is being ruled from the heart and not the head with a comment then so be it! It’s still a totally valid comment and if ever it were possible to inflict the same pain on these a holes with bull hooks and electricity prods then put me down for the job. I will do it with relish and work all the overtime necessary. More power to your elbow PETA..Keep up the great work…

  • Silke Dallmann says:

    how can people think it’s ok to chain up any living being even worse when they are babies!!! This must stop now!!!!

  • Ana says:

    But PETA will still fighting right???…right??

  • kayla says:

    i still dont get how people can hurt poor innocent helpless beautiful animals. its just ridiculous.

  • Nishant Pownarkar says:

    Ringling and their work is very shocking I am against this. But the thing is what are the solutions for this problem out side of court is PETA have any stall just front of “Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus” where people from PETA can tell the Normal Public about the truth of animals in Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. ?????

  • Maryna says:

    I work in a National Park in Tanzania and when you see baby elephants in nature you realise even more how cruel this is. This is a modern world we do not need animals for entertainment.

  • Rhonda Keen says:

    This is horrible that the treatment of these poor innocent animals is still going on. WAKE UP AMERICA! GET INVOLVED! DON’T JUST SIT BACK AND ALLOW THIS TO GO ON!

  • mari says:

    We should ban ALL entertainmentamusement business that uses animals for profit. Im talking about Circuses aquariums and zoos..etc

  • Rad_Rosa89 says:

    When will Ringling’s be brought down?! They have so much evidence against them..

  • Diana says:

    I hate people who hurt animalsthey only deserve to go through the same suffering!

  • Brien Comerford says:

    I’m ProLife but Ringling Brothers should have been aborted !

  • Nyra says:

    I would like to restrain the trainers and poke them repeatedly with a bullhook!!!! Maybe then they will think about what they’re doing to these poor defenseless baby elephants!!!

  • Rex's Mom says:

    This judge is apparently an animal hater. I wish someone would chain him for 22 hours a day and hit him with a bullhook!

  • Tom says:

    Personally I don’t agree with having elephants live there lives chained or in trains however it was clear that the judge was right to cone to the conclusion that Tom Rider was a witness that his claims where self serving and that he was paid off to do it . I too have read the transcript and it shows to me that his actions where questionable as well as his claims that it effected him so much . 1 he took $$$ year after year from activist groups which ended up to be the bullet that killed the case 2 this guy after leaving RBBB TOOK a position over seas doing what u ask ? Working with the same abusers he had issues with and did what u wonder ? Work with elephants the same way ! If he was so upset with the methods used why in the world would he do this ? And furthermore why would he then move on to take HUGE sums of $$ from activist groups? It is clear that those who claim ringling bought there way out if cases is so far off base the ruling shows it oh wait !!! Imam sure we will hear that ringling now paid off the supreme court judge to get their ruling !!! Bring a ligit case lay the facts out and let the courts rule ! Oh wait again that is what happened and now we need to hear that it was on a technicality that they lost ! No the fact is THIS case was flawed once Tom Rider took cash for his testimony !! Case closed !

  • laura says:

    This is devastating to see. Ringling brothers are DISGUSTING.

  • Kelsey Helmstetter says:

    How could the judge rule AGAINST animal welfare advocates? Is he blind against what is truly happening? I could cry when I hear about these poor elephants being grossly mistreated and abused.

  • Shirley Elliott says:

    Circuses that use any animals for ‘entertainment’ should be banned outlawed why any person in their right mind would go to a circus or take their children is beyond me. Don’t go if enough people stop going they will be forced to close. If not then legalised abuse like this of wild animals being abused and exploited will continue.

  • amanda n says:

    This is absolutely disgusting! They are living creatures with a beautiful mind and this is beyond unhumane!