Los Angeles City Council considering ban on the use of elephants and the use of bull hooks in circuses that travel to L.A.
After years of pressure from LCA and animal rights advocates, the Los Angeles City Council is set to vote sometime early next year to ban elephants from performing in circuses and the use of bull-hooks within its city limits. If the City Council adopts the proposed ban next year, Ringling Brothers, the oldest continuously operated circus in the country, will be barred from the nation’s second-largest city unless its owners agree to abandon its signature elephant act.
Over 500 people attended the protest against Ringling Bros. in L.A. on July 20, 2011
Both The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus train have been bringing elephants to Los Angeles since 1919. LCA held the largest circus demo in the US on July 20th, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angeles against Ringling Brothers. Over 500 people advocating on behalf of the circus animals turned up to protest The Cruelest Show on Earth.
“The treatment of elephants in traveling circuses is one of the crueler practices, and it’s time for us to stand up for them,” said Paul Koretz, the City Council member who sponsored the ban. Once Los Angeles outlaws circus elephants, other communities would follow. “At some point, this will be universally banned throughout the country,” he said.
Six Southern California cities already ban circus elephants, more than in any other state. Several major American circuses have voluntarily eliminated animals from their shows, instead focusing on human acrobatics, while zoos, including the Los Angeles Zoo, have moved away from use of the bull hook. More than a dozen countries have also banned wild animals from performing in public including China, Bolivia, Peru and Greece.
Ringling Brothers has fought back, arguing that its treatment of elephants, tigers and other animals is humane, and pointing to inspections by the Department of Agriculture as proof that the animals are receiving exemplary care. But volumes of video and testimonial evidence have proven otherwise. Pressure on circuses to drop wild animal acts has grown steadily, as LCA and other activists have waged countless campaigns, demonstrations and appeals to educate the public on the cruelty of forcing elephants to travel in circuses. Unions and other organizations that would profit from circuses have fought hard to kill the ban, using the economic impact as a reason to continue the blatant showcasing of abuse. Addressing the issue of economic impact in a letter to Mayor Villaraigosa, Chris DeRose stressed “Allowing the [abuse of elephants] to happen in Los Angeles only perpetuates and motivates others to strive for the same livelihoods.”
Circus animals do not willingly stand on their heads, jump through rings of fire, or ride bicycles. They don’t perform these tricks because they want to and they don’t do any of these meaningless acts in their natural habitat. The ONLY reason circus animals perform is because they are scared of what will happen to them if they don’t.
The circus would like you to think that these intelligent and sentient creatures perform because they are positively reinforced with food, praise etc. There is no such thing as positive reinforcement for animals in the circus - only varying levels of punishment, neglect, and deprivation. These animals have limited access to food and water as to will them to perform, as well as to prevent untimely defecation and urination while they are on stage or in public view.
An LCA investigator went undercover inside the Carson & Barnes Circus, where he documented extreme animal abuse, including elephants being beaten with baseball bats, pitchforks, and other objects; shocked with electric prods; and hit on the head and across the face. LCA worked with local media to expose this cruelty and filed a complaint with the United State Department of Agriculture.
Training circus animals involves physically punishing them. These training practices generally will be hidden from public view make the audiences believe these animals want to and are willing to perform. Because these animals have been conditioned through violent training sessions, they know that refusal to obey in the ring will result in severe punishment later. Moments before entering the ring, while just outside of public view, trainers may give the elephants painful whacks or blows to remind them who’s in control and to ensure that the elephants perform the specified tricks on command.
Animals in the circus are routinely whipped, beaten with long metal rods, shocked with electric prods, and struck with clubs. Trainers often strike elephants with a bullhook or an ankus on the sensitive areas of their skin such as around their eyes, under their chin, inside their mouth, and behind their knees and ears. A bullhook is also sometimes used to hit animals across the face. Bears have their noses broken and their paws burned to teach them to walk on their hind legs. Carson & Barnes trainers have even been documented using blowtorches on elephants. Circuses easily get away with these cruel practices because no government agency monitors training sessions.
Ringling elephant farm training (PETA)
A number of animals are even drugged to make them more manageable. Others have their teeth removed; one group of chimpanzees had their teeth knocked out by a hammer. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus uses some of the worst training practices with elephants ever documented. Elephants have a very similar life cycle to humans and they care for their young much like we do. These captive elephants are forced to breed as young as 8 years old, that’s like breeding an 8 year old child. After the mother gives birth, tied by 3 legs the entire time, the babies are taken away immediately which causes the mother severe duress. Ringling Bros. chains the mother by all 4 legs to take the baby away so that the mother elephant won’t be able to hurt the trainers. Even before being weaned these baby elephants are put in a separate area from their mothers and are then chained for up to 23 hours a day. In the wild, elephants often nurse their babies until five years of age. Then the “correction process” for the baby elephants starts where they are tied up and beaten repeatedly to break their spirit. This training process is so brutal, that Ringling Bros. WILL NOT let their own PR department film the training of these baby elephants.
Ongoing travel means that circus animals are confined to boxcars, trailers, or trucks for days at a time in extremely hot and cold weather, often without access to basic necessities such as food, water, and veterinary care. Elephants, primates, big cats, and bears are confined to cramped, filthy cages in which they eat, drink, sleep, defecate, and urinate- all in the same place. The climates circus animals encounter during their exhaustive travels are often very different than that of their natural habitats. Bears are forced to endure extreme heat in the summer, and sometimes even walk across hot concrete on their way into the performing arena. Lions, on the other hand, find the cold very difficult to bear; some circus animals freeze to death.
The majority of circus elephants are captured in the wild. These wild elephants walk as much as 40 miles a day while in their natural habitat. Once captured, they are chained in one place for up to 23 hours a day. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus brags that it’s three units travel more than 25,000 miles as the circus tours the country for 11 months each year. Ringling Bros. own documents state that on average, elephants are chained for more than 26 hours straight and are sometimes continually chained for as many as 60 to 100 hours. When the animals arrive at their next destination, instead of being let off the railway cars immediately after arriving at the arena, they are sometimes forced to remain inside for hours despite extreme temperatures.
Two large cats in cramped cage at Ringling Bros
Baby elephants chained at Ringling's elephant farm (PETA)
Elephants are very social creatures and they form tight bonds with their families and other elephants. They feel joy, compassion, sadness, and grief just like humans do. Many circus animals become dysfunctional, unhealthy, depressed, and aggressive as a result of unnatural and unrelenting confinement in which they are kept and treated. When these elephants have their babies taken away, that life long relationship is abruptly terminated and every moment, every natural instinct, and every natural behavior is subject to discipline.
Some signs of abnormal behavior found in captive elephants include rocking, swaying, head-bobbing, or other repetitive movement. These behaviors are signs of extreme psychological distress. Elephants who are breathing with their mouths open are usually in pain. Captive large cats and bears pace back and forth and some bears have been known to beat their heads against their cages. Bar biting and self-mutilation are also common among circus animals, and is directly related to the stress caused by confinement.
PUBLIC SAFETY AND EDUCATION
Wild animals behave instinctively and unpredictably. In more than 35 dangerous incidents since 2000, circus animals have run amok through streets, crashed into buildings, attacked members of the public, and killed and injured handlers.
Additionally, some circus elephants have been diagnosed with a human strain of Tuberculosis (TB) and then come to pass it on to their handlers. Elephants in circuses are predisposed to TB because of routine transport that often exposes them to other infected elephants and because of stress factors, including severe punishment, constant confinement, inconsistent water quality and food supply, and poor nutrition. TB is an airborne disease which spreads through tiny droplets in the air. If TB is diagnosed in an elephant there are clear public health implications as the disease can be spread by close contact with infected animals and people. Circuses often allow members of the public to feed, pet, and ride the elephants which puts them at a great risk.
Observing circus animals teaches the public and children nothing about the natural behaviors of the animals. A lot of people mistakenly believe that captive breeding will help elephants and other species from becoming extinct. However, elephants that are born in the breeding centers of circuses can never be returned to the wild. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus operate under the umbrella of conservation. Ringling Bros. built a property in Florida that is known as “The Center for Elephant Conservation”. This “farm” is not open to the public. A former worker at Ringling’s elephant farm became a whistleblower on their training methods. PETA received pictures and videos detailing the abuse that goes on in their center. Gary Jacobson, the general manager of Ringling’s elephant farm, was even filmed roping baby elephants around all four legs, tethered neck-to-neck to an anchor elephant, to splay their legs in every direction so as to force the elephant to the ground to break their spirits.
LCA SPEAKING UP FOR CIRCUS ANIMALS
Last Chance for Animals, fellow animal lovers, and animal activists has been involved in protesting Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus throughout the state of California and beyond. LCA’s campaign against animals in circuses is dedicated to educating the public about the abuse circus animals suffer as well as working to get current footage and information to put an end to traveling animal circuses. Check out photos from 2012’s protests.
We always need more volunteers to attend protests and to help with filming and photographing the circus. To find out more about how to volunteer and really help these animals, click here.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
• Do not visit circuses that use animals.
• Write to circuses sponsors and tell them that you do not want to see wild animals used in circuses, for the sake of the animals and the public.
• Write letters to editors of local newspapers asking sponsors to stop supporting the circus.
• Organize or attend a protest.
• Support legislation protecting circus animals.
• Report any possible violations of state and local animal protection laws to the police and animal control.
CIRCUSES THAT DO NOT USE ANIMALS (partial list)
• Cirque du Soleil
• The New Pickle Family Circus
• Bindlestiff Family Circus
• Circus Millennia
• Circus Smirkus
• Cirque Eloize
• Circus Oz
• Mexican International Circus
• Cirque Ingenieux
• Earth Circus
• Fern Street Circus
• Little Russian Circus
• Neil Goldberg’s Circus
• New Shanghai Circus
• Circus Vargas
Learn more about: Zoos