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What’s Ringling Really Up to at Its ‘Conservation Center’?

Written by Jennifer O'Connor | January 28, 2016

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has vowed to eliminate its elephant acts by May 2016, at which point it plans to hold all the elephants at its Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC) in Florida. While relief from the stress and physical demands of life on the road will be a positive change, life at the CEC is no fairytale ending for elephants.

An in-depth PETA analysis—complete with photos and video links—of the living conditions for elephants at the CEC found that the animals spend most of their lives in chains. According to the sworn testimony of Gary Jacobson, general manager of the CEC, elephants at the facility are chained on concrete floors every day and sometimes for up to 23 hours. During a court-ordered inspection of the CEC, an independent elephant-care specialist observed that elephants spent so much time chained that they had worn grooves into the concrete.

Elephants at the CEC still live in fear of being hit with bullhooks—heavy batons with a sharp steel hook on one end (picture a fireplace poker)—and shocked with electric prods, also called “hot shots.” Despite mounting condemnation of these barbaric weapons, Ringling has staunchly defended their use.

“Training techniques … include a lot of man power, brute force, electricity, and a savage disposition. Raising a baby elephant at Ringling[‘s CEC] is like raising a kid in jail.”

—Former Ringling employee Samuel Haddock

Records show that the elephants at the CEC have a long history of rampant tuberculosis—an airborne and potentially fatal disease that is highly transmissible to humans, even without direct contact. As of June 2014, at least nine elephants at the CEC were under quarantine orders, including two who had been pulled from performing with the circus and sent to the CEC after testing positive for tuberculosis.

A prior PETA report documents that in 2011, 29 elephants with Ringling—including 25 at the CEC—tested positive for tuberculosis on diagnostic blood tests. At least eight of those elephants have since died, including Jewell, who was transferred to the Little Rock Zoo in, according to Florida’s State Veterinarian, violation of Florida’s animal-quarantine laws.

Calves separated from the mothers and chained to barren concrete in a barn at the Center for Elephant Conservation.

Calves separated from their mothers and chained to barren concrete in a barn.

Elephant calf coerced into an unnatural posture using bullhooks and ropes at the Center for Elephant Conservation.

Elephant calf coerced into an unnatural posture using bullhooks and ropes.

Elephant with cracked nail at Center for Elephant Conservation.

Elephant with cracked nail.

Chained baby elephant at the Center for Elephant Conservation.

Chained baby elephant.

Trainer with electric prod (circled).

Trainer with electric prod (circled).

Trainer with electric prod (circled).

Trainer with electric prod (circled).

In the wild, elephants are active for 18 hours per day, foraging, socializing, taking dust baths, and exploring home ranges that span hundreds of miles. At the CEC, females are left in unnaturally small social groups, while males are kept isolated and behind bars. Without adequate space to move, elephants are prone to arthritis and foot diseases—both of which can be life-threatening.

Despite the word “conservation” in the CEC’s name, no elephant already in Ringling’s hands or born in the future will ever step foot into the wild or ease the plight of endangered wild populations.

If Ringling is serious about helping elephants, it will immediately stop using elephants in performances and send the animals to an accredited sanctuary.