Ringling Case: Elephants Await Verdict

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Today, lawyers gave their closing arguments in the court case involving Ringling’s use of steel-barbed bullhooks and shackles on the elephants it forces to perform. Over the course of the six-week trial, the following evidence was presented:



  • Elephants are chained for an average of more than 26 hours at a time, sometimes for as many as 60–100 hours straight on extended trips. Chained and barely able to take a step, the elephants sway neurotically.
  • Kenneth Feld—CEO of Feld Entertainment, the company that owns Ringling—had to admit that he’s seen handlers use bullhooks to hit elephants in the secret places where the wounds don’t show up as much (i.e., under the chin, behind the ear, and on the back of the leg).
  • Ringling’s animal behaviorist testified that an elephant who had been struck with a bullhook was seen dripping blood on the arena floor during a show.
  • In internal e-mails that came to light, a Ringling veterinary assistant reported, “After this morning’s baths, at least 4 of the elephants came in with multiple abrasions and lacerations from the [bull]hooks. … The [lacerations] were very visible …. [A handler] applied … wonder dust just before the show.” (Wonder Dust is a gray dressing powder that circus workers can use to conceal bloody bullhook wounds.)
  • Another internal report documented that Troy Metzler, a longtime Ringling elephant trainer, struck Angelica, a female Asian elephant, three to five times while she was held in stocks before unloading her and then shocking her with an electric prod.
  • Two former Ringling employees, who had previously blown the whistle to PETA, described the abuse that they witnessed while working for the circus, including a violent beating of an elephant that lasted at least 30 minutes.

Check back with the PETA Files in the coming months for an update on the verdict. We hope that the elephants win, but regardless of the outcome, the trial has already generated lots of deservedly negative publicity for this miserable circus. And that’s a good thing considering how hard Ringling works to put a misleading, positive spin on clamping elephants in irons, dominating and intimidating them with bullhooks, and confining them to boxcars and arena basements for much of their lives.

Written by Alisa Mullins

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