Are you planning to catch the Ringling Bros. circus the next time it comes to town? If so, perhaps you should think twice. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Deborah Nelson just finished a one-year investigation into the company’s treatment of its animals, and the resulting article paints an ugly picture of unethical treatment by Ringling (and its parent corporation, Feld Entertainment) and inaction by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

A yearlong Mother Jones investigation shows that Ringling elephants spend most of their long lives either in chains or on trains, under constant threat of the bullhook, or ankus—the menacing tool used to control elephants. They are lame from balancing their 8,000-pound frames on tiny tubs and from being confined in cramped spaces, sometimes for days at a time. They are afflicted with tuberculosis and herpes, potentially deadly diseases rare in the wild and linked to captivity. Barack, a calf born on the eve of the president’s inauguration, had to leave the tour in February for emergency treatment of herpes—the second time in a year. Since Kenny’s death, 3 more of the 23 baby elephants born in Ringling’s vaunted breeding program have died, all under disturbing circumstances that weren’t fully revealed to the public.

Despite years of denials, Kenneth Feld has now admitted under oath that his trainers routinely “correct” elephants by hitting them with bullhooks, whipping them, and on occasion using electric prods. He even admitted to witnessing it.

But perhaps more disturbing still is the government’s failure to act. Since Kenny’s death, the USDA has conducted more than a dozen investigations of Feld Entertainment. Inspectors have found baby elephants injured and bound at Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. Whistleblowers have stepped forward with harrowing accounts of beatings. Activists have released even more videos of elephant abuse, and local humane authorities have documented wounds and lameness.

None of that has moved regulators to action.

You can read the full story here.

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