Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus fought long and hard to keep the documents under wraps, but just three days ago, PETA got the goods that may have prompted, or certainly contributed to, Ringling’s March 5 announcement that it will phase out elephant acts by 2018—and the records show why it would be dangerous to keep elephants performing for three more years. In a report released today, PETA revealed that on March 3, as the circus was aware, PETA finally prevailed in an open-records request and obtained documents proving that, at least since 2010, Ringling has had elephants test positive for the human strain of tuberculosis (TB). TB is highly transmissible from elephants to humans, even without direct contact.
Ringling’s announcement seems to have been a preemptive move to keep the public in the dark about the extent of the health risk posed by moving sick elephants to cities throughout the country. It’s clear that Ringling must not wait until 2018 to take the elephants out of its shows—these elephants suffer greatly, but now their retirement is vital to everyone’s safety.
The documents, which Ringling and the U.S. Department of Agriculture refused to release to PETA for years, reveal that in 2010, at least 11 elephants with the circus tested positive for tuberculosis. Two elephants were on the road with active TB for approximately two months each. Elephants used by Ringling have had TB since at least 1978, and roughly one-third of the elephants used by Ringling have tested positive for the disease. Although several Ringling employees have been treated for TB—and TB carried by an elephant was linked to an outbreak among eight humans at an elephant sanctuary, some of whom had no direct contact with the elephant—Ringling has consistently opposed efforts by officials to improve testing requirements for TB in elephants. According to former USDA attorney Kenneth Vail, who is now the Animal Welfare Act compliance officer for Ringling’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, Inc., TB is “probably going to be the downfall of Feld’s elephants.”
What You Can Do
Urge Ringling Bros. to stop cruel elephant performances now—not in three years!