First-Ever Insider Photos Exposing Circus Cruelty Show Baby Elephants Bound, Shocked During Training

For Immediate Release:
22 December 2009

Rose Glover 020 7357 9229, ext 243; [email protected]

Orlando, Florida – PETA’s US affiliate has revealed that it was given dozens of never-before-seen photos taken inside the training centre of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, an American circus which recently toured Europe. Taken by a veteran elephant handler, the photographs expose for the first time ever the violent methods the circus uses to train baby elephants, who are so young that they should still be at their mothers’ sides. These methods have long been kept secret.

PETA US filed a formal complaint with the US government this month demanding that it take action to revoke the circus’s animal exhibitor’s license. The Ringling exposé comes on the heels of an investigation by Animal Defenders International earlier this year. That investigation revealed cruel treatment of elephants in the Great British Circus. Yesterday, the UK government launched a consultation that could result in a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. Bolivia, Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland and Singapore have all banned or restricted the use of animals in entertainment.

The following are just some of the abuses documented in the photos taken at Ringling’s secret training ground:

– A circus general manager holding an electric shock prod while “training” a baby elephant
– Baby elephants separated from their mothers by force
– Baby elephants bound with ropes on their legs, trunk, back and neck as a group of trainers gouges them with bullhooks and slams them to the ground
– Three bullhooks used simultaneously on one baby elephant being forced to learn how to do a headstand

Elephants reportedly endure this abusive training for three to four hours a day for up to a year. Since 1998, four baby elephants owned by Ringling have died, including one who broke both his hind legs during a training session and another who drowned while trying to escape from a trainer. This was not during a training session. It was on the road. The Great British Circus exposé also revealed that animals used in the circus endure violence and environmental deprivation. For instance, elephants were hit in the face and were kept chained for up to 11 hours a day. Animals used by Ringling and the Great British Circus display disturbed, abnormal behaviour.

Former elephant handler Sam Haddock – who worked at Ringling’s breeding and training centre in Polk City, Florida, between 1997 and 2005 – took the photos. On camera and in a notarised statement, he described how baby elephants scream and struggle during violent training sessions. Haddock, who died in November, regretted his career choice towards the end of his life and honoured his wife’s desire to come clean about what he had seen and what he was sometimes involved in. He asked PETA US to use the evidence he had gathered to ease his conscience and bring about justice for elephants.

“Parents looking for wholesome family entertainment won’t find it at a circus in which baby elephants are torn from their mothers, tied down, gouged with bullhooks and forced to perform tricks under threat of pain and punishment”, says PETA Director Poorva Joshipura. “It’s time for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to concede that cruelty to animals is inherent in animal circuses and ban the use of wild animals forever.”

For more information, please visit PETA US’ website