Trial Unveils Extreme Elephant Abuse by Ringling Bros. Circus Trial Unveils Extreme Elephant Abuse by Ringling Bros. Circus
Ringling Bros. Beats Animals

Trial Unveils Extreme Elephant Abuse by Ringling Bros. Circus

Judge Emmet J. Sullivan issued his decision in the federal lawsuit against Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' parent company, Feld Entertainment. The lawsuit alleged that the circus's routine abuse of Asian elephants violates the Endangered Species Act, and evidence presented at trial and in PETA exposés made it clear that bullhooks—the equivalent of a fireplace poker—and chains cause elephants enormous pain and suffering. However, Judge Sullivan ruled that plaintiffs did not have legal standing to file the lawsuit and so never addressed the abuse charges.

In the summer of 2009, PETA released videos taken during an undercover investigation documenting that numerous Ringling trainers struck elephants with bullhooks backstage at circus shows. In December, we released shocking photographs taken by a Ringling trainer of baby elephants, bound with ropes, being threatened and gouged with bullhooks. Bullhooks, which resemble a fireplace poker, have only one purpose—to inflict pain. The sharp metal hook bruises, punctures, and tears elephants' sensitive skin easily and often. Please urge the USDA to end the use of these barbaric tools.

Some of the internal documents presented during the trial highlighted that Ringling's own vet techs witnessed several abuses, including the following:

  • An elephant was dripping blood all over an arena floor after being hooked on the trunk and leg.
  • A trainer was seen using an electric prod while elephants were unloaded.
  • On four elephants, multiple bleeding lacerations caused by a bullhook were covered with a gray powder called Wonder Dust just before a show.


Former Ringling employees, including several who initially contacted PETA, provided shocking eyewitness accounts of frequent and violent beatings. Click here to read their eyewitness accounts.

Inspections, medical records, and other documents revealed the following:

  • Dozens of elephants with Ringling have been placed under tuberculosis-related quarantine.
  • Elephants exhibited lameness, which was exacerbated by grueling performances, and a 2-year-old elephant suffered from foot abscesses and lameness.
  • Elephants are chained in boxcars for an average of more than 26 hours straight and up to 100 hours straight.
  • Water was withheld from elephants so that trainers could minimize urination, and the water that was provided was sometimes contaminated with soap or bleach.

Experts who have testified on PETA's behalf in support of legislation to ban the use of bullhooks and chains on elephants also testified at the trial.

A PETA video of Ringling substantiates what witnesses and records revealed regarding the abusive use of bullhooks. Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld admitted in court that he's seen handlers hit elephants under the chin, behind the ears, or on the legs with a bullhook.

On the heels of the judge's decision, we must urge the USDA to end the use of bullhooks and chains on elephants.

There is clear evidence that the use of bullhooks and chaining inflict a great deal of physical harm to elephants, potentially in violation of another federal law, the Animal Welfare Act, which the USDA enforces. We need to ensure that the USDA acts on this indisputable evidence and prohibit the use of bullhooks and chains on elephants under the handling regulations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Please also send polite comments to:

Chester A. Gipson, D.V.M.
Deputy Administrator
4700 River Rd., Unit 97
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234
301-734-4993 (fax)


  • Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack


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Tell Everyone: Ringling Beats Animals!

In the Ringling Bros. circus, elephants are beaten, hit, poked, prodded, and jabbed with sharp hooks, sometimes until bloody. Tigers are viciously struck with sticks so that they'll perform difficult and confusing tricks. Be the voice for these animals by sharing this information with everyone you know. Spread the word here:

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