VIDEO: Ringling Bros. Worker Forces Elephant to Walk Backwards up Narrow Ramp by Dragging Her by Her Sensitive Tail

PETA Sends Eyewitness Video to Federal Authorities With Formal Complaint Noting Ringling’s History of Elephants With Broken Tails

For Immediate Release:
October 22, 2014

David Perle 202-483-7382

Cleveland, Ohio

PETA has sent a letter calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate an eyewitness video recorded in St. Louis on October 19. The video appears to show a Ringling Bros. handler pulling hard on an elephant’s tail—an extension of her backbone. The elephant apparently tries to stop the painful sensation by walking backwards up a narrow ramp in the dark, which places her at risk of injury if she were to trip. PETA believes this is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The AWA requires that animal handling not cause animals “physical harm” or “unnecessary discomfort” and that exhibitors demonstrate adequate knowledge of the species they maintain.

“No elephant expert would ever drag an elephant by the tail in order to force her into precariously walking backwards up a ramp,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “PETA wants this latest eyewitness report of elephant abuse investigated and Ringling Bros. held accountable.”

Inspectors have found that many elephants used by Ringling have broken tails, a frequent injury seen in elephants used in the entertainment industry. According to one expert, “Tails are commonly broken from handlers ‘punishing’ elephants for not responding.” Since July, PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—has filed six complaints with the USDA against Ringling in response to reports from concerned citizens.

Previously, Ringling Bros. paid the largest penalty in circus history—$270,000—for violations of the AWA.

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PETA’s letter to the USDA follows.


October 23, 2014


Robert M. Gibbens, D.V.M.
Western Regional Director, USDA-APHIS-Animal Care
2150 Centre Ave., Bldg. B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8177



Re: URGENT Request for Investigation of Report of Elephant Pulled Into a Trailer by the Tail at Ringling Bros. (License No. 52-C-0137)


Dear Dr. Gibbens:

I am writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) promptly investigate the Blue Unit of Feld Entertainment, Inc., dba “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus” (license number 52-C-0137; “Ringling”) for reportedly pulling an elephant’s tail to force her to walk backwards up a dark and narrow ramp on Sunday, October 19, in St. Louis.

In a video provided by a concerned citizen (see Video), an elephant is positioned facing away from the base of a narrow ramp. A man then steps onto the ramp and pulls the elephant’s tail away from her body, forcing the elephant to take tentative steps backward up the ramp. The man continues to pull her tail as she slowly makes her way up the ramp, following the man into a transport trailer.

Pulling an elephant’s tail to force her to back up a narrow ramp in the dark certainly caused the elephant distress and placed her at risk of injury if she were to misstep, in apparent violation of 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(b)(1), which prohibits animal handling that causes “behavioral stress, physical harm, or unnecessary discomfort,” as well as 2.131(a), which requires that exhibitors “demonstrate adequate experience and knowledge of the species they maintain.”

Please promptly investigate Ringling’s Blue Unit to ensure that the elephants are not subjected to this unsafe, inhumane, and apparently illegal handling. While investigating this matter, please be aware that experts who have inspected elephants used by Ringling report that many of them have broken tails, an injury frequently seen in performing elephants. According to one expert who previously worked with elephants being trained for the entertainment industry, “Tails are commonly broken from handlers ‘punishing’ elephants for not responding appropriately.”

Please also hold Ringling accountable for any and all Animal Welfare Act violations depicted in the video and/or found upon inspection. Ringling’s Blue Unit is scheduled to perform at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland through October 26.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Very truly yours,

Delcianna Winders, Esq.
Deputy General Counsel | Captive Animal Law Enforcement
PETA Foundation


cc:  Dr. Denise Sofranko, Field Specialist for Elephants, USDA/APHIS/AC ([email protected]); Dr. Betty Goldentyer, Eastern Regional Director, USDA/APHIS/AC ([email protected])

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