Friday, February 25, 2011

The Ringling Bros. Circus: The Cruelest Show on Earth

By Amanda Nesheiwat

The Ringling Bros. have come to town once again to give the “Greatest Show On Earth,” but people don’t know the behind the scenes look on what actually goes on during the training and transportation of elephants, tigers, and bears. According to PETA, constant travel means that these majestic animals are cramped up for long hours in a box where they eat, sleep, and defecate, in the heat or cold, often times without access to food and water.

Elephants are among the most intelligent animals, and to see them doing handstands and jump on command actually pales in comparison to what these animals are capable of doing. The Ringling Bros train these elephants in Florida at their Center for Elephant Conservation. No one is allowed to enter these training areas, and have even gone as far as putting up solid fencing so no one can see.

The types of training methods have been caught on video, it is clear that they train these elephants through fear and violence. Some of the methods they use to train involves tying the elephants to a rope where they stand for hours and sometimes even days on concrete floors. They use electric prods, whips and even bullhooks, which resemble a fireplace poker. Ringling Bros. claims that they use these positively.

This is a tool called a bullhook.
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching method of training abuse is called “breaking the elephant.” This involves “breaking” the elephant’s spirit by taking the elephant away from their mother after only 2 years. Elephants are not independent from their mothers until 5 years. Then they rope the elephants on three of their legs and leave them to stand for sometimes as long as 6 months. This is to get them to stop crying to see their mothers and to prevent them from moving around. This is a method that takes a lot of man power, often times up to 6 people. Circuses are able to get away with this kind of abuse because there are no government agencies that monitor training.

There have been protests popping up all over New Jersey by ticket booths selling Ringling Bros. tickets. At a booth by the Prudential Center in Newark where the circus is going to be performing, Nirva Singh, a protester and student activist from Montclair State University, noted “Some people saw the pictures and footage we had and actually left the line at the ticket booths.” While others, he said, tried to shield their children from the footage. He added “I think the children were definitely a lot more curious and willing to learn than their parents.” Fortunately, a lot of communities have banned the use of animals in circuses. “They’ve outlawed circus animals in China and Brazil and it’s only a matter of time before they do it here,” says Singh.

Something you can do to help stop animal cruelty during circus training is to inform the public and your community when an animal-using circus comes to your town. Many circus goers are unaware of the types of training methods used.

To see a video of how trainers use bullhooks on elephants before each show, watch this video:


  1. Watch the movie "Earthlings" below to see more elephant trainers at work, at circuses that claim to be humane:

  2. This is such a unseen horrific thing. Kudos to you for bringing light to the issue!