Ringling Bros Uses Bullhooks and Chains on Circus Elephants


SACRAMENTO --- Sacramento-based Born Free USA (formerly the Animal Protection Institute), a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit against Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Ringling Bros.) for its abuse of endangered Asian elephants, today revealed startling details uncovered during the trial.

“This groundbreaking trial uncovered clear evidence that Ringling Bros. violates the Endangered Species Act¬—which states it is illegal to harm, wound or harass an endangered species— by routinely striking, punishing and chaining elephants,” said Nicole Paquette, Esq., senior vice president and general counsel for Born Free USA, who was also a witness in the trial. “The evidence, from Ringling’s own medical records, also revealed that all of Ringling’s adult elephants suffer from some form of ailment relating to prolonged chaining on hard surfaces - yet Ringling continues to put these elephants on the road.”

Key findings from the trial include:

• 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’d 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.

“It’s amazing that in most states in this country, it is illegal to treat a family pet this way, yet for a majestic, endangered animal in a circus it is considered acceptable and routine,” adds Paquette.

“All of the facts in our case prove that elephants in the Ringling Bros. circus are suffering greatly and the circus executives see these incredible animals as nothing more than cash machines,” said Paquette. “Born Free USA hopes that all compassionate Californians stop funding circus abuse by spending their precious family entertainment dollars elsewhere.

Born Free USA also works through legislative channels to protect elephants from circus abuse. Born Free USA is the sponsor of HB 6555 in Connecticut and SB 1870 in Massachusetts, bills to protect elephants from abusive use of cruel and inhumane devices such as bullhooks and chains. Born Free USA also sponsored Assemblyman Lloyd Levine’s California Elephant Protection Act in 2006 and 2007.


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