Elephants are incredibly intelligent creatures. Perhaps that's why they've been a feature in travelling circuses for centuries. However, abuse of performing elephants has been well documented in that time.
1. The Romans used elephants in spectacle…
The Romans mainly used elephants for public show in processions, circuses and as objects of torment. The first records of elephants fighting each other as a form of circus entertainment date back to 99 B.C, when both animal and gladiator fights were popular in Rome. In 55 B.C. Roman military leader Pompey pitted elephants against men with javelins at a bloodthirsty spectacle, known as the Games. The Romans also used to parade elephants in shows of victory and as demonstrations of wealth and power.
2. …But elephant cruelty did not stop there
In the 19th century showman P.T. Barnum, who later formed American circus Barnum and Bailey, sent assistants to Sri Lanka to catch elephants for his travelling menagerie. Written accounts from the 1850s describe how wild elephants had nooses tied around their ankles and were hoisted on to a ship for a 12,000 mile journey to New York. In his autobiography, Barnum wrote that his posse “killed large numbers of the huge beasts” on the expedition.
3. Allegations of elephant abuse have led to bitter legal battles
In 2000, several animal rights groups including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), accused Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey of abusing their elephants with hooks and chains. The case fell apart when lawyers found that a key witness, a former employee of the circus, had received over $190,000 from ASPCA and other litigants. The court ruled in favour of Ringing Bros. in 2009 and ASPCA agreed to pay the circus’ parent company $9.3 million.
However, a 2011 investigation by Mother Jones alleged further incidents of elephant abuse by Ringling Bros., describing how the animals spent most of their lives chained, in cramped conditions and at risk of being beaten.
4. Los Angeles is banning bullhooks
In October this year Los Angeles City Council voted to ban the use of bullhooks by circus workers. The sharp-tipped tool is used to train elephants, but critics say it inflicts pain. Other items used on elephants, including baseball bats, axe handles and pitchforks, will also be banned.
Circuses in the area now have three years to either change how they train elephants, or remove them from shows completely.
5. The last circus elephant in Britain, Anne, was brutally mistreated
Anne performed at Bobby Robert’s ‘Super Circus’. But in 2011 shocking undercover footage emerged of the 58-year old Asian elephant being kicked and beaten with a pitchfork by her carer Nicola Nitu in her winter quarters in Northamptonshire. Roberts was found guilty of three counts of causing unnecessary suffering to a performing elephant in November last year and was given a three year conditional discharge. Anne was transferred to Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire in April 2011.
A ban on the use of all wild animals in circuses in England will go ahead by the end of 2015.