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5 Circuses That Really Need to Get Their Sh*t Together

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Posted April 1, 2015 by peta2 staff

When Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus made the exciting announcement that it plans to stop using elephants in its shows after the year 2018, we had a lot to celebrate. After all, Ringling Bros. is notorious for its appalling treatment of elephants—like tying baby elephants to the ground, jabbing them with bullhooks, and shocking them with electric prods to teach them unnatural circus tricks after tearing them from their mothers.

ringling training elephant

So, of course this announcement is great news, but it also makes you ask: Why do these elephants, who have endured violence for years, have to wait until 2018? Why not end their use NOW? Why not retire them to accredited sanctuaries rather than to Ringling’s notorious breeding compound, where elephants spend most of their lives in chains? What about the other animals who suffer with Ringling Bros., like the big cats?

This announcement also makes you ask: If Ringling Bros. is retiring its elephants after increasing public pressure, then why aren’t ALL circuses doing the same thing? Here are five of the circuses that really need to get their sh*t together and finally retire their elephants to sanctuaries:

1. UniverSoul Circus

SFW Universoul Circus Elephant Rides

UniverSoul has a long history of working with notoriously cruel elephant exhibitors, like Larry Carden. Recently, Atlanta law-enforcement officials charged both a UniverSoul representative and Carden with cruelty to animals after a whistleblower reported that an elephant handler inserted a bullhook—a sharp metal weapon that resembles a fireplace poker—into one elephant’s sensitive mouth during a performance in Atlanta. During the same performance, another elephant, Bo, refused to leave the stage for nearly an hour. Why was Bo refusing to leave the stage? A witness reported that he missed a stunt during the routine. Bo may have been frightened of what was awaiting him backstage because circuses are known for punishing elephants with hard blows to the most sensitive parts of their bodies, like their ears, faces, and mouths.

2. Carson & Barnes Circus

SFW Carson and Barnes Nina

Carson & Barnes Circus makes this list, without a doubt. It’s notorious for abusing and exploiting animals, including an elephant named Nina. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently cited the circus for failing to provide Nina with adequate veterinary care. She has reportedly lost 500 pounds in the last several months! And it just keeps getting worse: A Carson & Barnes employee was caught beating Nina on video while touring with another circus in 2011.

3. Kelly Miller Circus

Kelly Miller Circus

Like the other circuses on this list, Kelly Miller Circus really needs to get its sh*t together. It uses a lonely, sad elephant named Anna Louise. Elephants are among the most social and intelligent species of animals, and like humans, they suffer when denied the company of other members of their kind.

4. Shrine Circuses

SFW Shrine Circuses Carson & Barnes ElephantShrine circuses are NO better than the others on this list. Like many of the circuses that use elephants, Shrine circuses contract elephants for acts from a variety of exhibitors—all of which have deplorable records of animal care. In 2014 in Pittsburgh, a young activist who was there protesting a Shrine circus reported actually seeing trainers strike elephants repeatedly with bullhooks, including while one elephant tried to take a drink of water.

5. Cole Bros. Circus


Last but not least on our list of notoriously cruel circuses that should follow in Ringling Bros.’ footsteps (or even better, one-up Ringling by ending its elephant acts NOW, because duh) is the Cole Bros. Circus. Cole Bros. paid a civil penalty of $15,000 to settle more than 10 Animal Welfare Act violations. In 2011, the circus and its president also pleaded guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act by illegally selling two Asian elephants. The circus was ordered to pay more than $150,000 in fines, yet it still hasn’t announced plans to end its elephant acts.

Remember: The five circuses that made this list aren’t the only ones that need to get it together and stop exploiting animals. ANY circus that uses animals in its shows imprisons them. Using animals for entertainment, whether in a circus, in a zoo, or at SeaWorld, is just plain wrong. Till all cages and tanks are empty, we’ll keep fighting for these animals, and you can, too! Join the peta2 Street Team and start taking action for animals.

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