Basic Tips for Circus Elephant Inspections

PETA has developed a guide, “Basic Tips for Circus Elephant Inspections,” to assist local authorities with inspecting elephants. The guide contains information on monitoring unloading and performances, checking for signs of illness and injury, looking for evidence of abuse and neglect, and reviewing basic husbandry. Click here to order copies of the guide or review the links below.

PETA also offers a videotape that includes undercover footage of standard training practices by the circus industry. In the video, a circus trainer attacks elephants with a sharp, metal bullhook and instructs other trainers to inflict pain by sinking the hook into their flesh until the elephant screams. While trainers are careful to conceal these beatings from the public, authorities who closely monitor animals before, during, and after performances may observe abusive use of the bullhook and other mistreatment or find evidence of cruelty, such as puncture wounds.

Additionally, PETA maintains factsheets on numerous circuses that list their history of Animal Welfare Act violations as well as other problems. These factsheets may be helpful in highlighting areas of particular concern. 

Because of heightened public awareness and evidence of routine mistreatment in circuses, local authorities across the country are giving greater scrutiny to circuses. As a result, enforcement agencies that monitor circuses commonly find violations of municipal codes and humane laws, such as the following:

• September 17, 1994/Lebanon, Oregon: Local authorities arrested an elephant trainer and charged him with animal abuse for beating a 15-month-old baby elephant during a performance, causing the elephant to collapse. He later entered a plea of “no contest” and was ordered to pay a $500 fine for the charge of animal abuse in the second degree.
• August 6, 1997/Albuquerque, New Mexico: Police officers investigating a parked circus trailer discovered three elephants and eight llamas crammed into a poorly ventilated trailer. One of the elephants was dead. The temperature inside the trailer was estimated to be 120°F. A circus employee was convicted of neglectful care and maintenance of animals.
• August 27, 1999/Freehold, New Jersey: The Monmouth County SPCA filed animal cruelty charges against a circus for overworking and overloading a disabled elephant who was forced to work despite a chronic, degenerative condition that caused pain-related lameness. 
• August 25, 2001/San Jose, California: California humane officers monitoring performances charged an elephant trainer with cruelty to animals for allegedly striking and wounding an elephant with a bullhook when the elephant hesitated before entering the performance ring. 
• August 23, 2002/Norfolk, Virginia: Animal control officers investigated complaints that an elephant had been repeatedly struck with a bullhook during rides and found three raw, bloody puncture wounds on the elephant’s leg and shoulder. The handler was convicted on three counts of cruelty to animals. 
We hope that you will utilize this information to help protect elephants from inhumane treatment.

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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