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Undercover: Meet PETA’s Investigative Team

Written by PETA | July 22, 2009

Today we released a new investigation inside Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus that shows workers on video as they beat and whipped elephants dozens of times in venues across the country. It’s an investigation that I helped work on.

Once investigators capture video from an investigation, my job is to review all the footage and meticulously record the abuses and other notable findings. From that, I prepare condensed versions of the video for the public to view and draft complaints to officials, which in the new investigation into Ringling amounted to nine complaints to a total of 20 federal and state offices.

At times, reviewing so much footage can be tedious and extremely upsetting, but it’s nothing compared to the relentless suffering that the animals who are used by Ringling are subjected to.

Most of the investigations that I work on involve farmed animals, in which the longest life span is about two years (for a pig used for breeding purposes). Her two years going from gestation crate to farrowing crate and back, over and over, are miserable, but her suffering comes to an end. For the elephants used and abused by Ringling, the suffering can go on for decades, and there’s no end in sight—unless PETA and the public can convince the USDA to seize these majestic, elderly psychologically damaged animals.

Many of these elephants have not known anything close to a “natural” life since they were caught in Asia decades before I was born, but now the USDA has the chance to make things right by moving these animals to a sanctuary where they will be able to roam around the vast area that they need in order to be healthy and happy. Our brave investigator has armed the USDA with the information that it needs in order to make this happen and finally end these animals’ decades of suffering.

It is an honor to work on all our investigations, which are the heart and soul of PETA, but it has been the highest compliment ever to be able to work with our investigator to document the heartbreaking plight of the gentle giants who are abused by Ringling and give them a chance to escape from their long years of torment and beatings.

Now that we have given the feds more than sufficient evidence to seize these animals, I hope we will finally be able to make history for elephants.

Written by Dan Paden, Senior Research Associate

Commenting is closed.
  • leo says:


  • Timothy Sweeney says:

    Shut down Ringling Bros. once and for all. The USDA needs to create much much higher standards for animal protection. If they don’t big corporations like Ringling will be able to deceive and convince the public that they adhere to the tough standards that are set by the USDA sets for animal care. The USDA needs to rescue these poor animals from the abuse they endure from Ringling. I can’t believe Ringling actually has a Center for Elephant Conservation. It’s so sad.

  • emma says:

    mel petas undercover investigator worked with ringling and taped it for 6 months that means there would be over a hundred hours of footage you are seriously saying put the whole 6 months worth of tape on here? are u for real? peta has cut the footage down to just enough for us to see what goes on behind closed doors i dont think people would want to sit and watch a whole 6 months worth of footage anyway. get real girl!! if u think for one moment peta has fixed the tape then u seriously need to get real. weather its a 2 min tape or a 6 month tape what difference does it make when these animals are getting beaten? it makes no difference how long the tape is and u need to get your small mind round to thinking the same instead of trying to put the only people who are standing up to these abusers down…. feld went to great lengths to stop a journalist in america telling his abuse story and he succeded. that woman was put through hell she eventually got a few million dolars out of him but the point is if nothing was going on why did he do that to that poor reporter? and peta is prepared to stand up to him no matter what happens and we should all support and applaude peta for that. well done peta for all you do even if you do dissapoint people with ONLY 2 MINS OF FOOTAGE RATHER THAN THE 100 HOURS…duh.

  • Cary MacDonald says:

    I’ve been hoping for 40 years that I’d live to see the day when circuses like Ringling Brothers would go extinct. Thanks to the courageous investigtors working for PETA I might witness the final end to this type of animal abuse. I pray that this year’s law suit will do it. Keep up the great work.



  • Mel says:

    Again all I’m saying is that if you show unedited footage you’ll have a stronger case because then no one can accuse you of splicing together scenes from previous videos to make a case. There are groups all sides and all issues who have been caught doing this and the case is ignored tossed out or ruled in favor of the other side. If you wish to disagree with me fine but please put this up it would show you stand by your work and tout it as legit.

  • Bill Liggett says:

    I was an elephant handlertrainer for over 25 years and I must agree from the video you present that the treatment is abusive and excessive. I was criticized for not being “heavy handed” enough yet I took on some of the most challenging elephants in the country. Elephants work with mutual trust and respect to sneak in cheap shots as is evidenced in the video just gives them “the elephants” the justification to do the same thing. Thus a “rogue” is manufatured because the rules are changed on them. I don’t necessarily align myself with PETA but my years of experience and love of elephants compells me to speak out. The Elephants would be far better off in Tenn. at Carol Buckley’s Sanctuary and every effort should be made to get them there. If I can be of any assistance to you or Carol in the future please feel free to contact me.

  • Cindy says:

    Mel if you saw a child being abused by their babysitter on a nannycam video would you have to see footage from the whole day in order to know that it’s abuse? If the babysitter punched the kid in the face just twice but didn’t hit the kid the rest of the day would that make it all okay? I really don’t get where you’re coming from. These elephants are clearly being abused plain and simple.

  • Kathryn says:

    Mel perhaps you are in another country and not familiar with America’s bureaucracy. The USDA is the only official dept which has the authority over the violations PETA exposes. Problem is the USDA doesn’t really care that much and always complains of being short staffed.

  • Michele says:

    Mel what is wrong with you? I don’t give a s if the rest of the video footage shows 100 hours with no abusive incidents. The condensed version shows enough to know that these animals are being ABUSED. An abused child does not typically suffer from abusive incidents every minute of every day does that mean it’s acceptable? Should we allow that child to remain with hisher caregivers if they abuse the child with belts to the point of injury only 10 of the time? 20? 50? IT IS STILL ABUSE! The USDA and other agencies may not always act when they should in the face of such compelling evidence that does not mean PETA and other organizations are going to just give up. ALL OF US whether we are individuals or whether we belong to an organization are responsible to protect animals who are suffering from abuse. To do otherwise is really an act of omission…

  • Lynn says:

    I don’t understand why it is taking so long for the USDA to step in and seize these animals. These abuses have been documented over and over still the poor animals are carted across the country to “perform” for humans who either are uninformed or do not care. We’ve written to Tom Vilsack and our representatives what is the holdup? To the investigators thank you for all you do on behalf of these imprisoned tortured animals. Let’s all get out and protest Ringling see you in Oakland and San Jose!

  • Teresa says:

    I taught my son at an early age about what really goes on at a circus. He is 11 now and will not go!!! I am so glad that you guys are so tireless in your efforts to make the human race wake up and realize what we are doing to these poor innocent beautiful animals.

  • Mel says:

    Deander that’s my point the videos are only showing part of the story. If PETA wants people to be convinced of the whole story it should show all of it. Sounds like to me that people need to be better informed and yet if the USDA apparently does nothing then why does PETA still send stuff to them? It still looks like to me there’s more to this story than what people see.

  • JUDY says:


  • Deander says:

    MelTake a look at httpwww.peta.orgmcNewsItem.asp?id13339. When PETA filed the complaint with USDA they filed a video showing 85 different incidents on video. What’s being played online here is just a shortened versionnot too many folks have the stomach or time to watch all the abuse it sounds like PETA’s investigator documented.

  • Mel says:

    Mike Simply put then WHY does PETA send these letters in the first place if the USDA apparently won’t read them or do anything? I mean it’s just a thought given how they’re not doing much as it looks right now.

  • Heidi says:

    CNN aired PETA’s findings today on the Cafferty Files…it was great! Both he and Lou Dobbs commented on how they are both animal lovers and they hope this comes to an end. All the comments about this issue were positive and FOR THE ANIMALS!!!! PETA is great! Thanks for all you have done…without PETA the animals would be suffering more than they already do!!

  • Mike Quinoa says:

    Mel I’m not sure the USDA would be much help. They look the other way a lot when it comes to abuses of factoryfarmed animals so why would circuses be different. The USDA attempted to coverup the first case of Mad Cow in the US and maintained it didn’t enter the human food supply. This was a blatant lie according to the guy that slaughtered it Dave Louthan. Strangely enough to date the USDA has detected only 3 cases of Mad Cow. Canada has uncovered 15 cases and in Japan where they test every single cow 34 cases have been discovered. Hmm…

  • Tarryn says:

    The undercover investigators on PETA are amazing friggin people! I don’t know how you can go undercover and witness these horrific acts without going absoulutley mad! How on Earth can you do it??? What else can I do to help PETA and all animals?

  • mel says:

    Mike my point is and I’ll maintain it you risk the chance of the USDA not believing this case due to the fact it’s heavily edited. Now do I like this going on? Heck no it’s cruel to the animals and if said Elephant or Tiger decided to strike back too many innocent people and animals would be hurt or killed in the result. Elephants are herd animals and if one goes they all go. However when things are condensed and edited as I’m getting from this blog groups start wondering if things are being added from other cases solved and unsolved to exaggerate issues. It’s why you have to have some of the humdrum in there. I have skepticism this will be posted because of my strong opinion regarding editing but I hope so because seriously it is food for thought.

  • ThickSkinned says:

    I am pretty thick skinnednot alot bothers me.This video peeled my skin off. I am in Texas What can I do here to help you guys? This video has shown me I need to join your cause.

  • Mike Quinoa says:

    Mel Abuse doesn’t happen 100 of the time nor can it always be surreptitiously videotaped. The point is it should never be happening at all. The very daytoday logistics of running a circus that uses animals pretty much guarantees animal abuse and that’s why people should only patronize nonanimal circuses.

  • Lisa says:

    I was horrified at the images on this video. It brought me to tears to see these animals treated so horribly. I could not even finish the video. I am grateful we have organizations like PETA who want to protect the rights of animals.Thankn you for the work you do on their behalf…..

  • Lisa says:

    I watched this video and it brought me to tears yet again we are watching another case of animal abuse in the hands of Ringo and yet again nothing is done about it. For many years he has got away with animal cruelty i will never forget the video i watched with one of his elephants drowning that will stay in my heart forever a 4 year old elephant trying to get away from his abuser too young to swim because he was taken away from his mother to early what happened??? NOTHING… thats what happened they got away with it yet agin and all the animals that have died in his hands after its all very good documenting the abuse which is horrowing and i appalled the ovdercover team that document it but what is actually done to help them???? to save them get them out of there???? not just the elephants theres the tigers which were on the video and also the other animals which we dont know about its all very good sitting here and typing our concerns and comments but as we do these animals are being abused i cant believe America just sits back and lets it go on bring back the animal activists like we have in the Uk and get them out of there before they die they need our help NOW they have noone else to turn to.

  • Ellis Versteeg says:

    Lets go to the media with this elephant story !

  • Sarah says:

    This video is very disturbing. Where is the innocence?

  • Amy says:

    Bravo to all of you for a job well done.

  • laura says:

    i hope the media takes notice of this. thanks peta and everyone who works there amazing folks!

  • mel says:

    You know I find it funny that this film is edited. Makes me wonder if it is hiding information or editing it to fit your viewpoints. If you’re serious about your cause you should send all of it to the USDA it might actually might make a stronger difference.

  • bigfanx says:

    Extend our deepest appreciation to the undercover folks… without this video and others… the public would have no reason to believe that cruelty exists in the Ringling Circus. What makes this so difficult to view is remembering that during the trial Feld and others said over and over ‘we do not abuse the elephants’. The ankus is a ‘guide like a dog leash’. Well we can see in the new video just how the ankus is used… ‘guide’ my A$$!


    I have just joined PETA. After reading the horrific story about these poor beautiful elephants.OMG I can’t watch the video. the story was enough. You are all HEROES MAY GOD AND THE ANGELS KEEP YOU SAFE. I live in Australia.I do not have much money But i will try each month to send you $25.00.i know it is not much.As i do voluntary for our local dog and cat refuge.But if there is anything i can do just ask. I hope that we can get rid of CIRCUSES ALL TOGETHER. MY HEROES. MARIE CATTERALL

  • Taylor says:

    I just wanted to say that the video footage was hard to watch I couldn’t watch more than 10 seconds of it! Thanks for giving America an idea of what happens in circuses and also Thanks for giving the animals a voice!

  • Sabine Whitechurch says:

    Alex I’d like to connect with you to protest Ringling in Oakland and San Jose. Please write to Blessings.

  • Sarah says:

    Dan you are amazing! Please hug the undercover investigator from all of us whoever he she is!

  • Kathy says:

    Kudos to PETA for that great footage. It was difficult to watch and had me crying for quite some time. Hopefully the USDA will free these amazing and innocent animals from further torture. I so agree with Susan to set up the video outside of each circus for all to see what “REALLY” goes on behind the scenes.

  • Rex's Mom says:

    There was a very big article in the New York Daily News about PETA’s undercover investigation about the cruelty to the elephants. This really surprised me because the Daily News ADVERTISES this circus! So I was happy to see this very long article about the torture these animals go through at the hands of their handlers. There was even a time line of various cruelties to the elephants such as March 27 2009Elephant trainer strikes an elephant on the trunk and March 27 2009 trainer hits elephant in the head. March 29 2009Worker whips an elephant four times on or about the right ear. April 3 2009Trainer strikes an elephant on the trunk four times and jabs the animal’s left forelimb. There are many other incidents listed but you get the idea. This is totally cruel and mean and has got to stop! Of course Ringling says these things don’t happen and they give a great deal of care to all the animals. That is just a load of crap. They don’t care for the animals they torture them!

  • Kelli Pendleton says:

    How can I find out if there will be a protest for the August show of RBB Circus in Lexington KY. I’d like to participate if possible.

  • Scott Mauro says:

    I couldn’t believe the footage. Those defenseless animals…so unnecessary. I hope it brings about change immediately.

  • Carla* says:

    These beautiful animals live like this day in and day out with nothing to look forward too only to perform silly acts they were beaten into submission to do. Shame on Ringling!! How many more undercovers does there have to be for people to realize this is just plain wrong!! Exploitation at its darkest!!

  • Vinessa Campbell says:

    I watched the video and almost cried. It’s time to see the end of animals in circuses for good. We’ll be protesting Ringling or any Other Circus that brings animals to Sydney Nova Scotia Canada. We will be ready to set up outside video footage outside the circus when they try to book here.

  • Janay Laing says:

    This is the true reason that PETA exists to objectively document the atrocious things people do to animals and bring the truth to public light. All I can say is thank you PETA for your amazing investigative efforts and for working tirelessly to save circus animals. There is nothing more you could have done for these elephants than to capture their torment on tape for everyone to unequivocally witness because absolutely no one can defend it or claim it to be a fabrication. I put my faith in the USDA officials who review it to find this absolutely unacceptable and clearly abusive and stop Ringling from keeping and training animals for circuses. More than that I hope the public that sees this will make a intelligent decision to stop supporting the torture of animals and not go to circus. I don’t know who could view that footage and feel otherwise. PETA keep up the great work in bringing out the truth. THANK YOU

  • shelly says:

    You are heroes! Thank you for enduring such hell to help these majestic animals. You the entire investigations team and all of the dedicated individuals who work at PETA make me proud to be a member!

  • Susan Smith says:

    What you need to do is set up outside the circus with your videos and show people what they are actually supporting!! Anybody with an ounce of humanity in them would not partake in this atrocity!!

  • Susan Smith says:

    I watched the video and it was horrific!! It almost made me cry. To hit a huge animal like that and make it cry is terrible!! I hope these people get all they have coming to them because as I always say ” God does not like ugly”. And I hope the day is soon that we see no animals in the circus!! Keep up the good work!!

  • kirsten carter says:

    after 20 seconds of the video.i had to stop watching it.i was in tear’s.i hope the bring fedral charges aginst these people.for taking them across state make a profit.while the were abusing those all 7 states.

  • Alex Bury says:

    I second Missy. All of you who work daily with abused animals and video footage of abused animals…going through your own personal hell to get the word out…you are my heroes. It is truly an honor to work with you and to support you the best I can. Thanks to your awesome work we’ll see the end of animals in circuses in our lifetimes. We’ll be protesting Ringling here in Oakland and San Jose and your investigation will make our protests stronger!

  • Michael Essi says:

    Thank you so much for getting Ringling….once again. How can they deny this now?! PETA you rock for all that you do!

  • Missy Lane says:

    I’m SO proud to work with you Dan! All of you in The Cruelty Investigations Dept and Community Animal Project are stinkin heroes! Danggit I love PETA!