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For Immediate Release: 04/27/09

Embattled circus rolls into Connecticut

Ringling admits pervasive use of cruel bullhooks and chains on beloved circus elephants

Hartford, CT — The recent federal trial of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus (Ringling) revealed shocking evidence of routine mistreatment of elephants in the circus. This evidence directly supports the need for legislation in Connecticut to stop the use of cruel bullhooks and the chaining of elephants in the state.

Last month the Joint Environment Committee of Connecticut’s General Assembly passed HB 6555, a bill to protect elephants from abusive use of barbaric devices such as bullhooks and chains. The bill was introduced by Representative Diana Urban (D-North Stonington), and is supported by national animal advocacy group Born Free USA and a consortium of concerned Connecticut citizens.

“We introduced this legislation because Connecticut cares about the welfare of these incredible, endangered animals,” says Representative Urban. “We are supposed to be a progressive society, and if circuses have not found ways to transport and display animals that don’t involve inflicting pain, injury, and emotional distress, they don’t belong in Connecticut.”

“The evidence — from the mouths of Ringling’s own employees and CEO — is crystal clear: Ringling’s treatment of elephants is inhumane. Ringling can no longer deny that it hits the elephants with bullhooks or chain them for hours on end,” said Nicole G. Paquette, Esq., senior vice president of Born Free USA, and a witness in the federal trial against Ringling. “Connecticut residents must contact their legislators to let them know they do not support animal cruelty and will not attend the circus.”

The case against Ringling exposed the following:

  • Ringling’s medical records, and independent examination of these records by a Board-certified retired veterinarian from the San Diego Zoo, corroborate plaintiffs’ claims that elephants suffer injuries and scarring from bullhook strikes and foot injuries and lameness from being continually chained.
  • Ringling’s transportation records proved plaintiffs’ claims that elephants, both in the circus and at Ringling’s Florida breeding center, spend extensive amounts of time being chained. These records documented elephants being chained for up to 100 consecutive hours in cramped circus railroad cars.
  • Kenneth Feld, President of Ringling’s parent company, admitted “all elephant handlers at Ringling strike elephants with bullhooks” and stated he’s seen handlers hit elephants under the chin and behind the ears with a bullhook.
  • Ringling’s animal behaviorist reported “an elephant dripping blood all over the arena floor during the show from being hooked.”
  • In internal emails, a Ringling veterinary assistant reported that “[a]fter this morning’s baths, at least 4 of the elephants came in with multiple abrasions and lacerations from the hooks.” “The lacerations were very visible ... (a handler) applied wonder dust just before the show.” Wonder dust is used to stop the bleeding of a wound and it is charcoal in color which covers up the spot from public view.

“Ringling constantly compares its training, confinement, and handling tactics to those the average individual would use on a dog, yet its own statements and documents prove the exact opposite: elephants endure a lifetime of abuse at the hands of the circus,” added Paquette.

Born Free USA is a leading national non-profit animal advocacy organization working to conserve and protect wildlife in the U.S. and globally. More information is available at www.bornfreeusa.org. Details on the trial against Ringling Bros. circus, including trial documents and exhibits, can be found at www.bornfreeusa.org/ringling.


Nicole Paquette, Born Free USA, 916-622-7170
Representative Diana Urban, 860-287-2144

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