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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Fact Sheet

Performing captive wildlife — elephants, lions, tigers, bears, baboons, monkeys, camels, llamas — all endure years of physical and psychological pain and suffering in traveling acts to “entertain” an uninformed audience.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus tours the country with horses, ponies, camels, llamas, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, and elephants. Although Ringling Bros. refers to itself as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” it is “The Cruelest Show on Earth” for the animals it holds captive. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has failed to meet minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as established in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).


3 of the zebras who had previously escaped in June 2007 from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus broke free from their temporary tour enclosure in Baltimore, MD. The animals wandered briefly into traffic lanes before being corralled and returned to the sidewalk. A circus veterinary technician described it as “a scary moment.” (www.baltimoresun.com)


Ringling Bros. is cited by the USDA for failing to construct housing for its dogs that was able to protect the animals from injury, contain the animals securely, and restrict other animals from entering.

The inspector noted that a barrier placed across the back of the traveling housing for 6 miniature dachshunds cannot contain the dogs or restrict others from entering, and that the dogs were observed hanging over the barrier, which they could have easily jumped over and potentially come in contact with motor vehicles. Additionally, it was noted that the low barrier provided easy access for a person to reach in and take the dogs. (USDA inspection report)


Ringling Bros. is cited by the USDA for failing to maintain records of acquisition and disposition for its tigers.

It was noted that acquisition/disposition records for a recent exchange of one male tiger for another were not available, and that the inventory records provided indicated that the licensee was still in possession of the original tiger. (USDA inspection report)


While on tour in Colorado Springs, CO, 4 zebras and 3 horses from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus escape from their handlers when spooked by interstate traffic noise. Animals run onto road next to interstate, eluding 15 animal handlers for about 30 minutes. Animals are subsequently recaptured unharmed. (Associated Press)


Ringling Bros. is cited by the USDA for failing to handle animals so there is minimal risk to the animal and the public, with sufficient distance and/or barriers between the animal and the viewing public so as to assure the safety of the animals and the public.

The inspector noted that the Ringling train carrying 8 Asian elephants was parked with insufficient barriers between the animals and the public; and that 3 APHIS inspectors were able to walk unchallenged directly to the open doors of the elephant cars. The inspector also observed a local news photographer leaning into the open doors in order to take photographs.

Additionally it was noted that people were lining up to watch the elephants walk from the train ... and that the lack of an adequate perimeter fence or appropriate alternative security measure ... would have enabled a member of the public to enter the cars and approach the animals, thus jeopardizing their own safety, or place items inside the cars that could adversely affect the well-being of the animals. (USDA inspection report)


Ringling Bros. is cited by the USDA for failing to provide adequate veterinary care for its elephant named Jewell.

The inspector observed that Jewell has an abnormal gait and walks with a stiff left front leg. It was noted that no records were initially available during the inspection regarding this condition. The records were then sent by the veterinarian, who had examined Jewell the previous week and determined that she was “normal” and that any stiffness on the leg disappeared within a few minutes of walking around, and required no treatment.

The inspector observed Jewell walking for about 7 minutes, during which time the stiffness did not disappear as she walked; and noted that the condition needs to be addressed to ensure the animal’s health and well-being. (USDA inspection report)


The USDA cites Ringling Bros. for failing to dispose of outdated medications. (USDA inspection report)


The USDA cited Ringling Bros. for failing to maintain medical records indicating whether or not it is carrying out prescribed medical treatments for one of its elephants, Zena, at its Florida breeding facility, and possibly failing to provide this care to her.

Zena was suffering from a large swelling on her right rear leg just above the nails, and was prescribed a course of treatment to include daily soaks in a medical wash. The inspector noted that the facility did not have this wash in stock, the staff didn’t know if any was on order, and the staff were unaware that it should be administered to Zena. (USDA Inspection Report)


The USDA cited Ringling Bros. red unit with failing to properly construct and maintain the zebra enclosure in a manner that is structurally sound and kept in good repair, so as to properly contain the animals and protect them from injury. The inspector noted that the enclosure was constructed of cattle panels, some of which were bent and with rungs partially detached. Replacement or repair was recommended for the panels. Additionally, it was recommended that a different construction material be evaluated for use in the zebra enclosure. (USDA Inspection Report)


Ringling Bros. red unit was cited by the USDA for failing provide adequate veterinary care to a male camel called Spike. The inspector noted that Spike had two actively bleeding wounds – one on his neck, the other on his left front leg, and that these wounds must be evaluated by a veterinarian. (USDA Inspection Report)

01/17/06 and 01/06/06

The USDA cited Ringling Bros. for failing to handle its elephants Rudy and Angelica in a manner that does not cause trauma, stress, physical harm, or unnecessary discomfort. During a performance in Puerto Rico, Rudy and Angelica sustained several cuts and scrapes from bleacher seats while being led from the arena to a backstage holding area, when they were startled by a barking dog in a kennel that had been placed nearby.

On 01/06/06 Ringling is also cited for failing to handle animals so there is minimal risk of harm to the animals and the public, by maintaining sufficient distance and/or barriers to assure safety.

The inspector noted that for approximately 24 hours after arrival and set up there was an incomplete barrier/perimeter fence around the elephant tent. The front portion of the barrier was missing. The inspector was able to drive his vehicle onto the lot, park the vehicle, and then walk into the elephant tent unchallenged for several minutes.

Additional barriers were delivered and set up during the inspection, but it was noted that sufficient barriers should be available as soon as the elephants are in the tent. (USDA Inspection Report)


Ringling Bros. circus train blocks traffic for 2 hours after it is stopped for running red light on tracks in Orlando, FL. (wftv.com)


The USDA cited Ringling Bros. at its breeding facility, for failing to maintain medical records for “all the elephants and Gunther in particular” to be able to determine compliance and ensure and confirm that the elephants that undergo medical treatments receive the prescribed medical care.

The inspector noted that though Gunther appeared to have been suffering from a lesion since at least May 2005, there were no written records to document when the condition first started, a diagnosis, treatment plan, or records of any medical care he may be getting for the lesion. (USDA Inspection Report)


The USDA cited Ringling Bros. for failing to dispose of expired and undated anti-tuberculosis drugs. (USDA Inspection Report)


Gildah, an Asian elephant on exhibit with Siegfried & Roy show in Las Vegas, NV, owned by Ringling Bros. Circus’s parent company Feld Entertainment, dies in her enclosure at Mirage Hotel-Casino. Gildah, who was housed alone, was 57. (Associated Press)


Tova, a 36-year-old female Asian elephant, kicks her elephant trainer at Ringling Bros. Circus’s elephant breeding facility in Florida. Man is airlifted to hospital and suffers fractured pelvis and soft tissue wound. Tova is disciplined with temporary isolation from her peers. Bruce Read, vice president of animal stewardship for center, says, “This is normal elephant behavior.” (The Ledger)

03/03/05 and 09/08/04

The USDA cited Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus on 9/08/04 for failing to dispose of a range of outdated drugs.

Ringling Bros. was also cited on this date for failing to provide enclosures free from protrusions that could be injurious to the animals contained therein, for the transport enclosure being used to house and transport 8 tigers. It was noted that lining was torn, missing, and had a protruding area that could be injurious to the tiger occupying this enclosure, who could chew on and swallow lining fragments. (USDA Inspection Report)

On 03/03/05, Ringling Bros. was given a repeat citation for not yet having completed correction of the problem with the tiger enclosure from 09/08/04, which had been given a correction date of 09/22/04, and then 10/08/04. (USDA Inspection Report)


A horse with the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus was killed shortly after being unloaded from the train in which the animals traveled. The horse was struck by a charging stallion while standing beside the train while other horses were unloaded. Velasquez, a 14-year-old palomino who usually led the unreined-horse act, died a short time later. The show in Grand Rapids, MI opened as scheduled. (Associated Press)


An 8-month-old endangered Asian elephant named Riccardo was euthanized at the Ringling Bros. breeding facility due to severe and irreparable fractures to both hind legs after he fell off a circus pedestal. (Ringling Bros. News Release, 08/06/04)


A lion with Ringling Bros. was found dead after crossing the Mojave Desert in the circus train, en route from Arizona to Fresno, CA. The lion is believed to have died from heatstroke and dehydration. The circus is awaiting the results of a necropsy. (Associated Press)


Two Norwegian Fjord horses traveling with Ringling Bros. died after they were hit by a train while being unloaded in Dayton, OH from the train in which they traveled. The horses were struck when a freight train unexpectedly went through the area. One horse died instantly; the other was euthanized at the scene. (Dayton Daily News)


An animal handler was bitten by an alligator while moving the animal from the public viewing pit. The handler suffered six puncture wounds to his right hand. This was the second alligator bite for a Ringling circus handler in 14 months. (The Columbus Dispatch)


Ringling Bros. was cited by the USDA for failing to have the required perimeter fencing surrounding its facility (the retirement farm in Florida) to properly prevent contact between the dangerous animals at the facility and persons outside the perimeter fence. The inspector noted that the perimeter fence was not complete around the facility, and that there are at least two places where gates or fencing of appropriate height need to be installed. (USDA Inspection Report)


A 57-year-old endangered Asian elephant named King Tusk was euthanized due to osteoarthritis. (Ringling Bros. News Release, 12/22/02) Captivity-induced foot problems and arthritis are the leading reasons for euthanasia of captive elephants.


The USDA cited Ringling Bros. for failing to maintain its animal facilities at its blue unit so as to protect the animals from injury. The inspector noted that the outdoor enclosure for the alpacas and goats had accumulations of debris (pieces of plastic, metal, cans, paper, etc.), and a piece of wood on the ground with several sharp nails sticking up. These items could potentially injure the animals if stepped on or ingested. (USDA Inspection Report)


Ringling Bros. was cited by the USDA, at the winter quarters of its red unit, for failing to erect a perimeter fence of the height required for containing dangerous animals. (USDA Inspection Report)


The USDA cited Ringling Bros. for having four elephants overdue for trunk washes to test for tuberculosis (TB). These elephants belong to George Carden but were traveling with the red unit under Ringling Bros. licenses. Also, Ringling Bros. was cited for not properly storing grain and bedding in a manner to protect it from weather and pest contamination. (USDA Inspection Report)


A Ringling acrobat was arrested and jailed after being charged with sexual battery of a 16-year-old girl. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service also ordered that the acrobat be held. (The Salt Lake City Tribune)


Ringling Bros. and Shrine Circus’s Michigan veterinarian, Gretchen Steininger, was found to have violated Michigan’s Public Health Code and was reprimanded and ordered to pay a $500 fine by the Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine. In performing spay and neuter surgeries, Steininger failed to use sterile instruments, failed to change her gloves between surgeries, reused surgical drapes, failed to complete patient records, and failed to provide discharge orders to owners for post-operative care. (Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine Consent Order and Stipulation, The Macomb Daily)


The USDA cited Ringling for failure to dispose of expired medication, for improper feeding, and for poor sanitation. (USDA Inspection Report)


California humane officers charged Mark Oliver Gebel, son of the late animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams, with cruelty to animals for striking and gouging the hide of an endangered Asian elephant with a metal bullhook. The incident occurred when the elephant, Asia, hesitated in entering the arena for the grand finale. (Washington Post) (Gebel was previously cited for ignoring Ringling’s own veterinarian and making Kenny, a 3-year-old Ringling elephant, perform while ill. Kenny died. See entry 08/28/98)


Ringling Bros.’ parent company, Feld Entertainment, was cited by the City of San Jose for Animals Running at Large and Public Nuisance when a yak escaped. (San Jose Code Enforcement Administrative Citation)


Ringling failed to secure a date at the Kansas Coliseum because of concerns about declining attendance in recent years. (The Wichita Eagle)


The USDA cited Ringling for improper food storage. Two open bags of feed were noted on the floor of the feed trailer used to store elephant grain. The trailer that the feed was stored in also had a hole in the roof. The feed was contaminated by rainwater. (USDA Inspection Report)


Jasmine, a 7-year-old endangered Bengal tiger, was euthanized due to renal disease. (Ringling Application for Export and Re-Import of Animals under Endangered Species Act and CITES)


Birka, a 34-year-old female endangered Asian elephant, was euthanized due to abdominal neoplasia. (Ringling Application for Export and Re-Import of Animals under Endangered Species Act and CITES)


Ringling subjected a tiger in advanced stages of pregnancy to stressful conditions associated with transport. Four tiger cubs were born on the road while the circus was performing in Columbus, OH. (Associated Press)


The USDA cited Ringling for improper food storage. (USDA Inspection Report)


Two employees of the George Cardin Circus were convicted of animal cruelty. Ringling Bros. uses animals owned by the George Cardin Circus. During sentencing, the judge in the case added that people should simply stay away the next time the circus comes to town. (CBC Online, Ringling.com, Red Unit animal inventory)


An endangered Asian elephant died as a result of marked osteoarthritis. (Ringling Application for Export and Re-Import of Animals under Endangered Species Act and CITES) Arthritis and foot-problems are common ailments induced by a life in captivity and living on unnatural ground conditions, such as concrete.


An endangered Asian elephant was euthanized “due to old age.” (Ringling Application for Export and Re-Import of Animals under Endangered Species Act and CITES)


A videotape captured a Ringling Bros. employee looking around furtively before jamming a long instrument several times into an elephant’s neck. A spokeswoman for Ringling Bros. stated that the employee was reprimanded but had not been taken off elephant duty. (The New York Times)


A Bengal tiger was euthanized due to tumors in her ear canal and sinuses. (Ringling Application for Export and Re-Import of Animals under Endangered Species Act and CITES)


The USDA cited Ringling for improper food storage. (USDA Inspection Report)


The USDA informed Ringling that its food storage and preparation was improper. Inspector also noted one elephant, Babe, had recently developed intermittent stiffness in the right carpus. (USDA Inspection Report)


A Ringling employee was arrested in Rosemont, IL, after police identified him from a fingerprint left behind when he allegedly mugged an Ohio woman at knifepoint a month earlier. The circus worker, who had been convicted of aggravated burglary and drug abuse in 1989, was suspected of committing a string of recent armed muggings. (Hamilton Independent Media Center)


The USDA cited Ringling for failure to provide adequate veterinary care. The inspector wrote, “There is no documentation maintained on elephants that have minor lesions, scars, or abrasions. ... Records of medical treatment were not available on the camel that recently had both rear feet caught in a train track.” Ringling was also cited for storing the animals’ food near toxic substances and failure to maintain transport enclosures that could be properly cleaned and sanitized. (USDA Inspection Report)


The USDA cited Ringling for failing to provide veterinary care to an elephant named Tillie who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Tillie, owned by Patricia Zerbini, is under the care of Ringling’s Williston facility and commingled with other elephants, which puts them at risk for infection or re-infection. (USDA Inspection Report) (See entry 12/17/98 for more on Williston)


A Bengal tiger was euthanized due to degenerative osteoarthritis. (Ringling Application for Export and Re-Import of Animals under Endangered Species Act and CITES)


The USDA cited Ringling for failure to provide adequate care in transit, failure to provide drinking water, and failure to maintain transport enclosures. The inspector wrote, “Tiger transport design has allowed excessively high temperatures during routine transport ... Vent failure pushed these temperatures to a point of immediate danger to the animals.” (USDA Inspection Report)


The USDA cited Ringling for failure to maintain the structural strength of its tiger enclosures. During transport, two tigers injured themselves attempting to escape their cages after faulty vent doors blew shut causing an excessive rise in temperature. One tiger tore at the door, tearing the track and breaking off a tooth. A tiger in another enclosure suffered an injury above the eye caused by the same faulty vent-door problem. (USDA Inspection Report)


An endangered Asian elephant was euthanized due to osteoarthritis. (Ringling Application for Export and Re-Import of Animals under Endangered Species Act and CITES) Arthritis and foot-problems are common ailments induced by a life in captivity and living on unnatural ground conditions, such as concrete.


The USDA cited Ringling for failure to maintain a transport-shift cage for the tigers because it had a hole in the floor. The USDA also cited Ringling for failure to provide minimum space for the dogs; inadequate water dish; and failure to identify dogs and cats with USDA tags. (USDA Inspection Report)


The USDA cited Ringling for failure to have structurally sound and well-maintained tiger cages that would protect the animals from injury and keep them contained. The inspector also noted that Congo, an elephant with chronic arthritis, was continuously housed on concrete and should be housed on more comfortable alternative surfaces such as large hoofstock rubber. (USDA Inspection Report) Arthritis and foot-problems are common ailments induced by a life in captivity and living on unnatural conditions, such as concrete.


Teetchie, a female endangered Asian elephant, was euthanized due to tuberculosis and multiple joints affected with osteoarthritis. (USDA Inspection Report, Ringling Application for Export and Re-Import of Animals under Endangered Species Act and CITES)


Two zebras escaped from their handlers in San Jose while being walked on a public street from the arena to the back lot where the animals were housed. The incident was captured on video. (09/25/00 Affidavit to USDA investigator Diane Ward)


Video documents several incidents of Ringling employees’ use of the bullhook to hit and jab elephants, as well as the use of pliers to pinch the sides of the elephants. The video shows that when the handlers take the pliers out of their belts the elephants attempt to get away from the handler. Video also documents the elephant Juliet chained and swaying in stereotypic behavior. (09/25/00 Affidavit to USDA investigator Diane Ward)


Benjamin, a 4-year-old endangered baby elephant who was prematurely removed from his mother before she could teach him to swim, drowned in a pond while the circus was traveling through Texas. It is alleged that he went into deeper water in an attempt to get away from his trainer who was going after him with a bullhook. A former Ringling employee testified under oath that over time he had seen Benjamin beaten repeatedly. (Associated Press, Philadelphia Daily News, The Enquirer)


A horse collapsed and died during Ringling’s pre-show animal parade in Norfolk, VA. A videographer filmed the 15-year-old Polish Arabian gelding collapse. Although Ringling claims that a veterinarian is available to the animals 24 hours a day, there was no veterinarian onsite when the horse was in urgent need of medical care. (Associated Press, Virginian-Pilot)


The USDA issued a warning to Ringling for using ropes to forcibly separate baby elephants from their mothers, causing large visible lesions on the rear legs of two baby elephants. (Both baby elephants were just under two years old when taken from their mothers. In the wild, female elephants remain with their mothers their entire lives and males for up to 15 years.) The USDA found that the handling of the elephants was not in compliance with AWA regulations and found sufficient evidence to confirm the handling of these elephants caused unnecessary trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm, and discomfort. (05/11/99 letter from USDA’s Ron Dehaven to Julie Strauss of Feld Entertainment, USDA Inspection Report)

The USDA report also noted tuberculosis tests for one elephant were not available for review and no treatment was instituted for another elephant with positive tuberculosis status. (USDA Inspection Report)


Eight elephants at Ringling’s breeding farm in Polk County, FL and its retirement center in Williston, FL were diagnosed with tuberculosis. The Williston facility was quarantined by the Florida State Health Department and remains under quarantine as of 10/31/00. (The Seattle Times)


A USDA inspector noted on an inspection report that an elephant with confirmed tuberculosis was euthanized. The circus did not announce this death. The inspector also noted that three elephants did not have adequate shade and that an elephant named Congo had intermittent lameness and what appeared to be hyperkeratosis (a skin condition). (USDA Inspection Report) (see entry 11/09/99 for more on Congo)


A Bengal tiger seriously injured a handler after a circus performance. The handler was moving a dozen tigers to the transport wagon when the tiger escaped the enclosure and attacked. The handler suffered serious injuries to his neck and side. (The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times)


Ringling was charged by the USDA with Animal Welfare Act violations for the death of Kenny, a baby endangered Asian elephant who performed two shows after determining he was visibly ill, leading to his death from gastrointestinal infection. Ringling paid $20,000 to settle the case out of court, which prevents Ringling from being labeled as actually violating the AWA. (Associated Press, Jacksonville Times-Union, APHIS Press Release 08/28/98)


After attacking his trainer, Richard Chipperfield, a 4-year-old Bengal tiger named Arnie was returned to his cage and was then shot five times with a 12-gauge shotgun by Graham Chipperfield, the attacked trainer’s brother. Arnie was safely enclosed in his cage when he was killed. The USDA issued Ringling a “serious warning” in the tiger’s January death. (United Press International)


A lion bit off the index finger of a woman who stuck her hand inside the lion’s cage on the Ringling circus stage to pet the animal. (Associated Press)


While at Ringling’s elephant breeding facility in Florida, world renowned elephant trainer Axel Gautier was stomped to death by an elephant. (St. Petersburg Times)


Animal trainer, Graham Chipperfield, was badly mauled when ten of his lions, sparked by two feuding females, got out of control during a training session. In 1998, Chipperfield retired from the circus after shooting a Bengal tiger that attacked his brother. The shooting incident instigated a USDA investigation and Ringling was issued “a serious warning.” (see entry 03/26/98) (The Virginian-Pilot)


A man was bitten by Pasha, a 350-pound lion, on the middle finger of his right hand after reportedly climbing a plastic barricade and reaching his hand in the cage to pet the lion. Pasha was one of 16 lions and tigers kept in cages along the side of the road while not performing. (The Fresno Bee)

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