In the wild, elephants roam in large social herds for miles per day. They eat fresh vegetation and bathe in mud holes. In circuses, they live lives of confinement, shackled in box cars, eat bland diets of hay, and denied everything natural to them. They travel in all weather extremes. Taking elephants from the wild to perform in circuses often means separating baby elephants and their mothers, which is very traumatic for animals with such strong social bonds.
Ron Kagan, the director of the Detroit Zoo, says, “Living on the road, circus animals are not able to have either appropriate physical or social environments.” [Detroit Free Press, “Circus Entertainment Comes at the Expense of Animals,” October 11th, 2002].
The elephants are trained with torture. They are trained by being beaten with an ankus (bullhook) and shocked with electric prods even though an elephant’s skin is so sensitive, she can feel an insect bite. Undercover footage at Carson and Barnes Circus shows an elephant trainer saying, “Don’t touch ‘em. Hurt ‘em…Make ‘em scream!…Sink that hook into ‘em…when you hear that screaming, then you know you’ve got their attention!” [https://archive.org/details/Training_and_tragedy-Elephants_in_Circuses].
Tom Rider, a past circus employee, recalls, “I saw elephants bleeding. We’d have to put wonder dust on them, and it is kind of a charcoal powder that coagulates the blood, and we’d use that to cover it up so they could go into the show.”
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) only provides very minimal animal welfare standards, and circuses don’t even meet those minimal standards. According to USDA inspection reports, circuses are cited frequently by the USDA for repeated AWA violations. A case in point is the Carson and Barnes Circus. They have been cited by the USDA for decades for such reasons as failure to provide adequate veterinary care, failure to provide minimum space, failure to provide shelter from the elements, giving animals unclean drinking water, failure to keep animal care records, etc. Another example of many is Circus Pages. Circus Pages has been cited for failure to keep records of veterinary care, failure to provide minimal space, and failure to provide appropriate food. Yet, the USDA still allows these circuses to perform.
Circuses that use wild animals put the public at risk. Animals sometimes go berserk and attack their trainers or the general public after years of physical and mental anguish. An elephant with James Hamid Circus got spooked and killed his trainer while traveling in Pennsylvania. A tiger with Hawthorn Corporation mauled a trainer, injuring him. An elephant with Family Fun Circus escaped and ran out in front of expressway traffic causing an accident. An elephant with The Jordan World Circus knocked down and kicked a trainer with children on her back. One child fell off. Tyke, an elephant with Circus International, killed a trainer and injured a dozen spectators. The list of incidents at circuses goes on and on. More circus incidents can be found here.
There are many circuses that only use willing human performers.
Numerous countries have banned or severely restricted circuses that use animals—including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Peru, Mexico, and India, just to name a few. It’s time for the U.S. to be next.
A bill to ban circuses that use animals, H.R. 1759, The Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act, sits in the U.S. House Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee, of which, Representative David Rouzer chairs. I urge Representative Rouzer, the rest of the committee members, and the House to quickly pass H.R. 1759.