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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Ringling in my Backyard

Published 09/08/08
By Nicole G. Paquette, Esq., Senior Vice President

Every year around this time I start feeling a little sick to my stomach and then I realize it is because the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is rolling into my town this week. The circus brings with it animals that have been broken, mistreated, abused, poked, prodded, chained, and forcibly trained to do stupid tricks all in the name of entertainment. I always have to ask why anyone would buy a ticket to see this spectacle.

Soon Ringling Bros. will stand trial in a federal district court in Washington, DC for its mistreatment of Asian elephants. Born Free USA united with API is a plaintiff in this groundbreaking case and the lawsuit alleges that a number of routine practices by the circus are in violation of the Endangered Species Act, including the forceful use of a bullhook, and the chaining of elephants for most of the day and night. The trial is set to commence on October 20, 2008.

We have amassed a wealth of evidence to support the claims of our lawsuit.

Ringling Bros. employees have repeatedly been documented hitting elephants with bullhooks, which are heavy, pointed pokers with a sharp hook at the end. In fact, we have Ringling’s own internal written documents that discuss the mistreatment of the elephants. For example, Ringling’s animal behaviorist reported “an elephant dripping blood all over the arena floor during the show from being hooked.” In an internal email, 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.”

After the release of the above information to the public, Ringling moved to prohibit the release of any additional information we received as a result of the lawsuit. Hmmm ... what are they trying to hide?

In addition, Ringling elephants are chained all the time except when performing. Internal records of the circus’s train travels show that the elephants are chained while confined in boxcars for an average of more than 26 hours at a time, and sometimes for as much as 60–100 hours without a break as the circus moves across the country. This is just shameful!

This evidence is just the tip of the iceberg of information presented in the federal lawsuit and to be ethically correct, this information, no matter how upsetting, needs to be shared with the public so that parents can make a truly informed decision about what is acceptable treatment of wild and endangered animals.

It saddens to me that in this day and age that Ringling can still make money off this outdated form of entertainment. Hopefully, as more people become enlightened by what really happens behind the big top with respect to animal care, more and more people will forgo buying a ticket to the circus and in turn take their families to wholesome cruelty-free shows that teach children about kindness and respect to all living creatures.

Please donate to the Elephant Defense Fund and help ensure that we win our lawsuit and end the abuse these majestic animals endure.

Blogging off,


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