An animal rights group releases video footage of trainers abusing circus elephants, calling the public’s attention to the traumatic lives of these traveling pachyderms.
Almost two months after Virginia Rep. Jim Moran, co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, introduced the latest Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, which would bar exotic, non-domestic animals from touring with circuses in the United States, new video footage obtained by Animal Defenders International illustrates once again the dangers of caging large animals like elephants in collapsible, mobile and temporary facilities.
The animal rights group says its latest video — in which circus workers are shown using bullhooks, metal bars and stun guns to control elephants used for giving children rides — offers more evidence that the use of wild animals in circuses is both cruel and dangerous. Its release comes about a year after ADI began its campaign to educate the public on why elephants should not be giving people rides, performing, or appearing in public events such as county fairs, weddings and parades.
Known as the “No Fun For Elephants” campaign, ADI turned to animal rights advocate and former “Price is Right” host Bob Barker to explain that while it may seem harmless to ride an elephant, these animals live traumatic lives in which they are physically abused, deprived of food and water, and intimidated — all to provide entertainment for humans.
The campaign uses undercover footage of elephant trainers beating and using stun guns on the animals in their infancy. By the time the animals are forced to perform in public, they are conditioned to be so frightened of the pain they know will come if they don’t do what they were told, that they often behave — which is why the public usually has no idea that the animals are treated so poorly.
“This is the third U.S. circus where ADI has filmed trainers shocking elephants with stun guns, so it’s fair to say that this animal abuse is endemic in the industry,” said Jan Creamer, the organization’s president, in a press release on Thursday.
In the statement, she also encourages Congress to move swiftly to enact the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act into law.
“Due to the very nature of the traveling circus, wild animals cannot move around or exercise naturally, they live their whole lives chained or tied up, or in small cages that fit on the back of a truck,” she said. “This lack of freedom leads to health, behavioral and psychological problems.”
While the bill would not affect zoos, aquariums, rodeos or other facilities with captive wildlife, it would put an end to the use of exotic animals in traveling circuses. Only domestic animals such as horses and dogs could be used in U.S. circuses, as the bill would make it illegal for animals to be housed in temporary facilities and for trainers to use cruel training and control methods, which often create stressful conditions for these animals.
“Traveling circuses severely restrict the space these animals have to move around and they are commonly chained by two legs for a large part of their time, causing mental damage and abnormal behaviors,” Creamer said. “They are stressed and subjected to a brutal regime to keep them in line.
“Our investigations have shown that the violence used on these animals is also a factor of the lightweight, temporary enclosures, and anxious workers moving them across open ground, in close proximity to the public. It is a recipe for disaster.”
Currently, 27 countries have enacted similar legislation, including Austria, Colombia, Sweden, Portugal, Taiwan, Bolivia, Peru and Costa Rica. Similar laws are up for debate in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Brazil, Chile and Norway.
Even when it’s clear the elephants are in distress, trainers “frantically” try to control the 2-ton pachyderms with bullhooks — heavy bars with a metal hook on the end. Once the animals calm down, trainers place children on their backs and force the animals to walk around. This is particularly concerning, since aggravated elephants have killed several people in recent years.
While there is no federal law barring the use of wild animals in traveling circuses, 45 cities and counties in 21 states in the U.S. have restricted the use of the animals within their jurisdictions.
The call for a ban is partly a reaction to exotic animals such as lions, tigers and elephants — animals that are meant to roam for miles each day — being locked up in small cages and animal welfare officers having a difficult time ensuring the animals are properly cared for because the animals are constantly moving from city to city.
When the circus does come to town, though, the animals often try to escape, which can be deadly for humans. In March, three circus elephants escaped from the Moolah Shrine Circus in St. Charles, Missouri. No one was hurt in that incident, but the elephants, which were supposed to be giving children rides, ran through the Family Arena parking lot and damaged several cars by “breaking mirrors off, pulling panels off, breaking the windows out,” according to one eyewitness.
Incidents like this, as well as the rise in popularity of circus acts that don’t use animals such as Cirque du Soleil, give ADI and other animal rights groups hope that the public will push the industry toward allowing animals the freedom to roam in the wild, not around the big top or a parking lot.