Elephant Kenny Was Still a Baby When He Died at Ringling

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3 min read

Kenny was just 3 years old when he died alone in a stall.

In the wild, an elephant calf like Kenny would still have been at his mother’s side, but at Ringling Bros., mothers were routinely separated from their babies so that human handlers could begin “breaking” the young elephants—using physical punishment to force them to perform meaningless and uncomfortable tricks.

One day in 1998, Kenny was reportedly very sick, but trainers still forced him to perform and appear on stage in three shows.

According to affidavits from circus workers and a veterinarian, he “had not been drinking for about 18 hours.” He was “acting slow” and was “unsteady,” in pain, and “colicky.” He also had several bouts of bloody diarrhea.

Later that night, after the performances had ended, he was found dead.

Ringling was ordered to pay $20,000 to settle a federal complaint for forcing Kenny to perform, even though he was ill and needed to see a veterinarian. Despite this (and other shocking incidents), the company continued to train and use elephants in its shows for almost another 20 years.

Animals are still suffering in circuses today.

Kenny’s story is not unique.

Although we’re counting down the days until Ringling’s last curtain call, the tragic and unnecessary deaths of baby elephants like Kenny and Riccardo—who was euthanized after both of his hind legs were broken during a training exercise—are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to circus abuse.

A bullhook being used on a baby elephant.


As long as animals suffer for human entertainment, there’s still work to be done. All other animal circuses, roadside zoos, and marine parks—such as SeaWorld and the Miami Seaquarium—must take note: Society has changed, eyes have been opened, people now know who these animals are, and we know that it’s wrong to capture and exploit them. Please, for Kenny and all other animals being abused in the entertainment industry, speak up now.

You can help stop animal abuse. Pick up a protest sign, pass out leaflets, write letters, share videos, call your legislators, speak to family members, and never be silent if you witness animal abuse. Other circuses, besides Ringling, continue to exploit animals and truck them all over the country in squalid conditions. You can help end this.

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