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  • Writer's pictureGina Scrofano

The Circus Challenge: Do Not Buy Circus Tickets Before Reading This

Every year, circuses such as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, come around and people enthusiastically purchase tickets thinking it will be a joyous and entertaining event to share with their families. As for myself, I couldn’t ignore my gut feeling telling me something just wasn’t right with the so-called “Greatest Show on Earth”, but I knew I would need a lot more then my feelings to prove it. So I dove into research regarding elephants and the treatment of animals in the circus, and the information I found was horrific.

Once having done the research, I truly believed that I had to convince others not to attend circuses that use animals. But there was one problem, how? How do I reach into the hearts of others and ask them to create a place for circus elephants, something that people may not have even given much thought of before? Truth is, many people still attend the circus because they don’t happen to know a lot about the actual animals, they are unaware of what occurs behind the scenes, they turn their heads away from it or they don’t believe what goes on is wrong. Either way, the odds of igniting an emotional reaction in order to make a point are stacked up against me.

So I won’t be doing that. I am not going to bawl all of this page and beg you to have mercy on the innocent animals abused by the circus and I’m not going to plead with you to have a change of heart through what some might consider a mere emotional speech. I’m going to do better then that. I’m going to show you the facts and I’m going to do it with scientific information about elephants, Ringling’s own online video, documented interviews from actual circus employees, legal trial testimony and official investigative footage.

So What’s The Challenge?

My challenge to you is this, read this article. If you believe there is no harm in attending a circus that uses animals, I challenge you to read this entire article and view the videos. If by the end of reading this, you still purchase tickets to any circus that uses elephants, or other animals in its performances, I guarantee it will not mean that you are unaware of the abuse that takes place, but that you simply choose to disregard it. And if that is the case, the challenge ends with me there and will be left between you and your mirror. Don’t believe me? Don’t believe that what occurs behind the scenes is wrong? I challenge you to read on...

Official Website & Video

I start off by going to the official Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baileys website. On the website you can click on Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC), on an About Us tab and then click on About CEC, which brings up a short blurb and a video.

(Additional videos are on their website. However, please note that those videos are extremely short and most of that footage was not even filmed at the CEC. Because of that, I have chosen to focus on their video, as linked above, which features the actual CEC.)

The Conservation

The website blurb states that the, “State-of-the-art facility is dedicated to the conservation, breeding, and understanding of these amazing animals.” At first glance, that sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Well let’s just take a closer look at this wonderfulness shall we?

Creating a ‘conservation’ is the perfect attempt at keeping animal protection groups at bay, avoiding potential laws and creating a smoke screen for the public. It creates the illusion that the purpose for the facility is to care for and protect the animals. However, one of the key words in their own description of the facility is breeding. Again using Ringling’s own words, the Asian elephant has been, “A lifelong symbol of the Greatest Show On Earth”, AKA the largest source of profit for their circus.

Knowing that, breeding their own elephants has ensured that they:

  1. Have an unlimited supply of elephants for their circus and/or at their disposal

  2. Will not have to purchase elephants or catch them from the wild

  3. Will have baby elephants, which are easier to intimidate, as they can begin controlling them at birth.

  4. Have privacy and strict limited access to the facility where they ‘train’ the elephants.

The CEC is not only closed off to the public, but also any non CEC elephant handlers and to it’s own Public Relations Department. As stated by CEC General Manager, Gary Jacobson, “Ringling will not let their PR Dept. video tape the breaking and training of the baby elephants, because breaking and training baby elephants is difficult to defend in the modern world and the PR Dept. would not understand.”

Looking at the above list, does logic tell you that they protecting the elephants or themselves?

Size Matters

The video also states the facility is on 200 acres of land, which wouldn’t be all that bad if the elephants were able to freely roam that entire area, but that unfortunately is not the case. The video quickly goes into an aerial view of the facility showing small sectioned off areas. These are the small areas that the elephants are sometimes kept in (when not on the road or during their time in chains, which I will get to later on). Factoring in that wild Asian elephants are extremely social, have homes ranging up to 80km (about 50 miles long by 20 miles wide) and that they walk up to 2 miles per hour (adding up to 10-16 miles per day), the size of the facility isn’t sounding so wonderful now is it?

That in itself is a bit unsettling, as clearly when comparing those tiny sectioned off areas to a 50 mile by 20 mile area, the two do not come close to matching up. Not to mention the fact that the sectioned off areas do not have any grass or water, and also keep the highly social animals separate from each other. However, that unfortunately is nothing compared to what is to come.

Lifetime Commitment, or Confinement?

Kenneth Feld is the CEO of Feld Entertainment. Feld Entertainment owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. In the video he states, “The most exciting thing always at the center is when there’s a new birth. Every elephant borne represents a movement in the right direction towards saving this species.”

So Feld Entertainment ‘saves’ elephants by forcing them to perform and by exploiting them for ridiculous amounts of money? That doesn’t sound quite right does it? Perhaps as opposed to saving them, each birth is actually exciting because it represents another paycheck.

As the video goes on, he also states that at the facility, “It is a lifetime commitment for every elephant”. Well that’s lovely for you Ken, but I didn’t realize that the elephants you stole from the wild or breed at your facility are able to make the decision and/or choose to make a lifetime commitment to the circus.

But Doesn’t the CEC Protect Elephants from Endangerment?

It is true that elephants face the dangerous existence of poachers and loss of habitat in the wild and perhaps overall if necessary to avoid endangerment, a proper sanctuary would be the best option. (A proper sanctuary being an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible, where the animals roam freely on a vast amount of land and where the animals are in no way abused or used for exploitation.) However, Feld Entertainment does not offer a sanctuary as an option in this case. And going back to Ken’s statement of their elephant’s lifetime commitment, even knowing that dangers exist in the wild, if elephants were able to choose between living free or in confinement and being forced with bull hooks into doing circus performances, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that they would choose to live in the wild. Which brings me to my next point. You just keep smiling Ken, this only gets better..

Bull Hooks

It is also noticeable in the video that every employee in the presence of elephants is holding a bull hook. This is to instill fear in the elephants, to enforce power over them and to ensure that the humans are obeyed.

In case you don’t know what a bull hook is, it is a stick with a metal hook on the end. Circus trainers sink the bull hook deep into the tender parts of the elephant, usually behind their ears, under their chin and in the armpit region. The hook part is used to pull down on the elephant’s skin, causing extreme pain and bleeding. All the employees are seen holding bull hooks in their own video as they attempt to promote how wonderful the CEC is. What they don’t show you is that during the 2009 federal trial against Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey (ASPCA v. FEI, Civ. No. 03-2006 (D.D.C.), Ken Feld admitted under oath that, “All of the elephant handlers strike the elephants with bull hooks."

So they are not just simply holding those bull hooks as some sort of fashion accessory as the smiling people are shown in the video. Every single employee is striking the elephants with them.

Robert Ridley, who has handled elephants for Ringling Bros. for over 40 years, also testified under oath, that he sees "puncture wounds" on the elephants from bull hooks and admitted that he sees "hook boils" (infections caused by bull hook wounds), on an average of twice a week.

One internal Ringling Bros. memorandum reported that an elephant had 22 puncture wounds caused by a beating with a bull hook.

But have no fear, when you go to the circus and cheer for the elephants as they perform, you don’t have to see those wounds because, as internal Ringling Bros. e-mails recount, lacerations are covered up with "wonder dust", so that they are not visible to the public.

Deception of Freedom

You might be thinking, “But the video shows moments in which the elephants are freely roaming around.” Have you ever seen a prison documentary in which they interview prison mates? Notice that for the interview those prisoners are sometimes not in a jail cell, but are in a separate room? Do you honestly think for a second that means they get to go to that interview room anytime they want, or do you think after the interview they are put right back in their cell? Of course it goes without saying, they are put back in their cell.

To look at it another way, if someone kidnapped you and forced you at gunpoint to record a video indicating that you were completely fine and that all was well, would you do everything in your power to do as asked? Unless you have some kind of special military training, you most likely would do it. Not only would you do it, but the video would likely be convincing, because you would be doing it to avoid abuse and/or death.

Think the CEC video is proof that the elephants roam freely? Take another look. Any time there is an elephant that seems to be free, it is an extremely quick moment of footage and there is a human with a bull hook close by. Do not be deceived by the power of film and editing. One can make anyone believe almost anything by filming a craftily directed, forced and edited moment in time, whether it is the truth or not.

Denied Water

Elephants are good swimmers, they enjoy bathing and drink up to 50 gallons of water per day in the wild. In Ringling’s own online video you can clearly see that the elephants do not have access to any natural water and they rely on people spraying them with hoses. But don’t even let that ‘bath time’ in the video fool you, Gary Jacobson (general manger who runs the CEC), admitted during trial cross examination, that the elephants are not only deprived their own water access, but they are only provided with water by the staff 2x per day, once at 6:15am and once at 3pm.

Natural Habitat?

Another beautiful moment in their video is when the narrator states that the facility is, “Where a thriving herd of Asian elephants are studied in their natural habitat”. Literally, at that exact moment that video shows a terrified elephant being crowed by several employees with bull hooks. The last I checked there is nothing natural about that for a wild animal, never mind circus performances such as standing on tiny stools, doing handstands and synchronized routines while wearing headdresses. I've never witnessed an elephant, or any wild animal for that matter, doing any of those things in their natural habitat and I'm certain I never will.

Family Bonds and Herds

Elephants are very intelligent, extremely social, form deep family bonds and live in tight family herds. According to National Geographic, “Scientists that have studied elephant behavior are certain that elephants experience deep emotions”. The herd raises and protects the children. The males do not leave the herd until the ages between 12-15 and the females never leave the herd at all. The fact is, if it were up to the Elephants, they would live together for several years and if female, forever. If the Ringling’s CEC actually cared about the study of “these amazing animals”, as they state on their website, they would acknowledge those facts. But of course they don’t, because at the Ringling’s CEC, there is no such thing as a family herd.

Tie-up, Confine & Isolate the Baby

Remember that exciting moment Ken Feld talked about when referring to ‘saving’ the elephants with each birth at the CEC? The following, which are known to circus trainers as “Breaking the Elephant’s Spirit”, are the first steps that Ringling takes, when a baby is born at the CEC:

  1. Take the baby away from the mother.

  2. Tie up all four of the baby's legs with rope for approximately 23 hours per day, every day.

  3. Once the babies stop struggling against the ropes, which can take up to 6 months, the ropes are replaced with chains.

And don’t doubt for a second that this is true fact, these inhumane practices are considered common by all elephant owning circuses and have been video taped by Ringling employees and official investigators, documented from interviews with confirmed elephant handlers and during legal trial testimony.

Gary Jacobson testified during the aforementioned trail that, “The baby elephants are grabbed from their mothers while they are still nursing, they are tied up for months at a time and hit with bull hooks to teach them how to do tricks for the circus.”

It is not just the babies that are tried up. Gary also testified, “That most of the female elephants are kept chained on two legs for at least 16 hours each day on concrete floors, and that some of them are kept on chains for 22 ½ each day and that none of the adult males is ever allowed on grass, and that after the males reach the age of about 8 years old they are put behind bars for the rest of their lives.”

And of course our smiling friend Ken Feld doesn’t actually do any of the dirty work himself now does he? No, he is far above that, he leaves it to his right-hand man Gary Jacobson, along with the other “trainers” like Sam Hooker. Hooker, a Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey employee, who after leaving the circus, provided this documented list of what is needed to “train” the elephants to do the amazing tricks that you take photos of during their shows:

  1. Ropes

  2. Bull Hooks

  3. Electric Prods

  4. Multiple People with Disdain for Elephants

  5. Brute Force

  6. A Cold Heart

  7. Savage Disposition

And in case you were wondering what that “training” looks like, here is a behind the scenes look at some photographs taken, some of which Gary Jacobson himself is in:

What you DO see What you DON’T see

What you DO see What you DON’T see

What you DO see What you DON’T see

What you DON’T see

Some take their children to the circus where they clap and smile

However, I wonder how the children would react if when that big red circus curtain opened, they saw the above instead? As you point your cameras and cheer, these animals are preforming completely unnatural retinues that they do not understand and that they are tortured into learning. They perform out of fear and desperation, doing all they can to avoid being abused. And even that is not enough, as shown in the videos at the end of this blog, Ringling and other circus employees continue to strike the elephants backstage and inflict pain, even when the elephants do everything that is demanded of them. When not on stage performing, backstage or in ‘training rooms’ being hit with bull hooks or electric prods, they go right back to being chained up for 22 1/2 hours per day, every single day of their lives.

Ringling Bros. Announces Elephant Phase Out - Effective 2 Years From Now...

After several years of torturing their elephants, Ken Feld finally announced that Ringling Circus plans to phase elephants out of their shows by 2018 and admitted to WHNT (Channel 19 News), that elephants are better off not being in their shows when he stated,

“This decision was not easy, but it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants and our customers.”

Now don’t go and think the cold bastard went and grew a heart, that decision comes from not wanting to pay expensive fines, such as the $270,000 Ringling paid in 2011 for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act, plummeting ticket prices as awareness of their animal abuse spreads and other inconveniences for the circus. In an Associated Press news article, Ken was also quoted stating, “Certain cities and counties have passed "anti-circus" and "anti-elephant"ordinances. The company's three shows visit 115 cities throughout the year and it’s expensive to fight legislation in each jurisdiction. It's also difficult to plan tours amid constantly changing regulations”.

Other Animals Will Continue Performing

The WHNT article goes on to confirm the circus’s plans to continue forcing other wild animals to preform ridiculous routines stating that per Ringling Bros. they,“Will continue to feature other extraordinary animal performers, including tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels. ”Which will look something like this: A smug animal abuser forcing tigers, that are left in tiny cages 23 hours a day, to stand up on two feet or jump through rings of fire by threatening and abusing them with a whip.

Tigers are kept in cages up to 23 hour a day, are threatened and abused with whips and are forced to do tricks.

Elephant Confinement & Torture Will Continue After Retirement

Taking elephants out of their shows is a good thing, but why not make the change immediate and why not release the elephants to a proper sanctuary? Well needless to say, waiting until 2018 will buy them some time while they continue to make a few more years of money off the tortured animals and recent announcements prove that they have found a new way of exploiting them. They now plan to do so-called cancer research with the animals and they have confirmed that even though the elephants will not be performing after 2018, the elephant ‘training’ will continue. Stephen Payne (Vice President of Corporate Communications for Feld Entertainment) when confirming that the elephants will continue their so-called ‘training’ stated, “You have to work with them and they have to be used to people for us to be able to continue the ‘valuable research’.” (StraightTwist will be following up on this so called ‘valuable research'). That along with their decision to continue subjecting other animals to the abuse for circus shows, clearly proves that Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey and Feld Entertainment have yet to learn the actual lesson here.

The Bottom Line

To purchase tickets or attend the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus shows, or any circus using animals, you are funding the torture and severe abuse of animals. Whether it is easier for one to turn their head away from that truth or not, it is a horrific, legally documented and indisputable fact.

During a KTVU, Channel 2 News Report, Ken Feld is shown stating,

“The first people to tell me that there should be no animals in the show, will be the public when they don’t show up.”

And KTVU said it best themselves when they said, “DON’T SHOW UP.”

Video Evidence

Still not convinced? The following videos have behind the scenes photographs and footage including blatant evidence of the unfathomable abuse that the circus’s employees inflict on these innocent creatures. And if you doubt for a second that at least some of those videos are from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, just take a look at those well-known red or blue headdresses on the elephants that are imprinted with their wonderful quote, “The Greatest Show On Earth.”


The videos include upsetting imagines, violence and profanity. If you believe these videos are not suitable for children, then why buy tickets and bring your children to see the circuses that are responsible for them?

A Special Thank You

To the American’s Against Federal Torture to Animals.

Bold Lie

If their deception has not been enough, on Ringling’s website under the Pampered Performers section they go as far to state, “A positive, healthy environment is the foundation of training elephants. Therefore, the cornerstone of all circus elephant training at Ringling Bros. is reinforcement through praise, repetition and reward.” .. After reading this article and viewing the above videos, I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not you believe that to be true.

1. First and Foremost

Never purchase or accept tickets for a circus that uses animals of any kind in their shows.

2. Never attend or bring children to a circus that uses animals of any kind in their shows.

3. Sign Petitions Provided Here

4. Attend the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus peaceful protest organized by the NH Animals Rights League

5. Support state and federal anti-circus animal legislation and stay up to date on current news regarding local and national success.

Truly Amazing

I never realized just how truly amazing elephants are until I did the research required to write this article. Their intelligence, communication, and problem-solving skills are remarkable. Their love, family bonds and empathy for others is inspiring and heartwarming. Their kindness, even to those who beat them, is unfathomable, and the strength they possess to endure all they have far exceeds my own. The lessons I have learned from elephants through this research are invaluable and will never be forgotten.


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