From Slaughter to Circuses and Amusement Parks—This Elephant Has Lost So Much

Published by Zachary Toliver.

Taken from her home in Africa and shuffled from circus to circus and roadside zoo to roadside zoo, only to end up mostly alone at a Six Flags, Joyce hasn’t been allowed to control her own destiny for nearly 35 years.

As detailed in a lengthy investigation by NJ.com, Joyce’s story begins when she was a calf plucked from Africa. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, African countries gunned down entire elephant families in bloody culls. The official purpose was to reduce so-called “conflicts” as human development encroached upon elephants’ habitats, but the fact that countries could make money by selling ivory and baby elephants was an added incentive.

Joyce was one of 63 baby elephants who watched humans slaughter their families in 1984. Remember Nosey—the famous elephant who inspired New Jersey to ban traveling wild-animal acts? She, too, was a part of this capture. Authorities rounded up the babies, forced them onto millionaire Arthur Jones’ private jet, and flew them to Jumbolair, his ranch in Florida. Twelve calves reportedly died in the first couple of years with Jones. Just two years after they were captured, he sold the remaining elephants off to circuses, zoos, and private collectors. Only 22 of them are still alive today.

Jones sold baby Joyce to the Carden Circus, which eventually sold her to Joe Frisco Sr., where she remained until 2005. Her life was undoubtedly similar to Nosey’s—traveling up to 50 weeks a year in a dark, cramped trailer and living in parking lots and arena backrooms, forced to perform under threat of being beaten by a bullhook.

Frisco was Joyce’s primary trainer, according to NJ.com. He’s the father of the notorious Carson & Barnes Circus trainer Tim Frisco, who was filmed viciously attacking elephants with a bullhook to “make ’em scream” in pain.

Elephants forced to perform are beaten down until their spirit and will are gone. This sort of training elicits full compliance, so that even the sight of a bullhook—carried at all times by trainers during performances—reminds those like Joyce of the painful consequences of missing a trick.

We know social bonds are extremely important to elephants, but captors often disregard these relationships when it’s convenient for them—resulting in stress and trauma.

Joyce spent most of her life with Gina, an elephant who’d also been taken to Jumbolair, until Joe Frisco sold Joyce to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California. She was then sent to an infamously cruel facility in Arkansas in an attempt to breed her. As stated in NJ.com’s investigation, she was briefly reunited with and reportedly “fell in love” with another Jumbolair elephant, Willie. However, when she didn’t get pregnant, she was sent back to California. We can only imagine the heartbreak she felt from losing one loved one after another.

Next, Joyce was sent to a Chicago zoo to be a companion for a solitary elephant, who died only a few months after she arrived. Eventually, she was moved to her current “home” of Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. As the investigative feature details, she lives mostly alone there, because she hasn’t been properly integrated into the herd. Even today, handlers at the park still use a bullhook on Joyce and she’s still made to perform circus-style tricks.

Elephants Deserve More Than a Life Spent Doing Tricks—Help Others Like Joyce Today

The frustration, stress, and trauma of captivity can lead elephants to exhibit abnormal and harmful forms of behavior, such as constant swaying and increased aggression. Captive ones often die decades short of the natural life expectancy of their species. From forcing animals to give tourists rides to imprisoning them in circuses for humans to gawk at, enough is enough.

Use PETA’s form below to complete multiple actions to help elephants on the other side of the globe.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind