The Treatment of Elephants in the Circus

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is one of the biggest circus companies in the world. Recently, they announced that come 2018, they will cease their use of elephants in the circus. Now, if you ask me, 2018 is a little too late, but at least they’re making some effort. My only question is: what will these poor animals be put through in the next three years prior to their “retirements?

Currently, there are thirteen Asian elephants that travel with Ringling Bros. in three different units. With the arrival of 2018, the remaining thirteen elephants will be brought to a Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation (oh, the irony). This facility is in Florida. There, the thirteen elephants will join a herd of 42 more retired Ringling elephants.

The treatment of animals in the circus has always been an issue. Animals do not perform tricks in the wild and obviously must be trained to do so. But whatever, right? My cat was trained to pee outside, your dog was trained to fetch…what possible harm could come to circus animals through training? A lot.

Former Ringling employees have reported the over-use of bull hooks on the elephants. Bull hooks are instruments that resemble fireplace pokers and are used to poke (sometimes into) elephants to get them to perform tricks. Employees from other various circuses have reported abuse of elephants as well, including beatings, whipping, and the denial of food and water.

Not to mention the transportation of such a large animal generally ends up being inhumane. According to, the “Ringling Brothers allegedly kept elephants locked in a boxcar for four days. During these four days, the veterinary staff were unable to reach the elephants and thus could not supply them with their daily medicines. PETA found records that states these three elephants that were kept in the boxcars had 'histories of lameness, and chronic foot problems', which apparently are common in captive elephants."

The US Department of Agriculture has a law entitled, the “Twenty Eight Hour” law. This law states that animals cannot be confined in a vehicle or vessel for more than 28 hours without “unloading the animals for feeding, water, and rest.” If the claims are true about the four day confinement, then Ringling Brothers has violated this law.

And if you still don’t care about the harm done to these elephants, I’ll inform you a little about how this affects you.

Circus elephants are often found to be carrying a human strain of tuberculosis which can passed on to humans through the air. Secondly, the abuse these animals endure causes them to become emotionally riddled and they may lash out. Circus animals have been the cause of many human deaths and injuries over the years. This, however, is not directly their fault because, as I said, the abuse messes with their emotions. I mean, how could it not?

And it’s not just the elephants; all circus animals are forced to perform against their will and are confined to unnatural captivity. However, Ringling has chosen to release only their elephants, so that’s what I’m focusing on.

The most general fact is that all of these animals are wild animals. They are simply not supposed to be captive and/or domesticated. The routines they are put through are not natural. Wild elephants, for example, are use to being in large herds and travel up to 25 miles a day. However, circus elephants are most often confined in their own secluded cage where they are transported and do not walk themselves.

And despite what the circuses tell you, they are not in the least helping the conservation effort of these animals. How is an elephant being forced to stand on it’s two front feet helping the hundreds of elephants killed PER DAY? Elephants are poached and killed every day and used for their meat, bones, and ivory tusks. In 2012, about 35,000 elephants were killed in Africa alone. There are approximately only 400,000 wild elephants remaining in the world. Circuses will tell you that the elephants they raise in captivity are eventually released into the wild, but that simply is not true. And even if that were the case, an animal raised in captivity would almost immediately die in the wild. That animal would lack all knowledge of how to find food, water, and shelter and would have no idea how to defend itself from predators.

And don’t even get me started on zoos...

Want to help, but have no idea how? is similar to the idea of Toms. You can buy a pair of pants or a bracelet for approximately $18 and $1-$2 of your purchase goes to the African Wildlife Fund in an effort to end elephant poaching. And if you like their page on Facebook, you will receive a coupon code for 10% off your purchase.

The money goes to the Say No campaign which is a “public awareness campaign aimed at stopping the demand for illegal wildlife products specifically ivory and rhino horn.”

Help save the elephants, Collegiettes!

Sources: 1,2,3,4,5Photo Sources: 1,2,3,4,5