Just like we do today, humans 100 years ago forced elephants to perform in circuses. One of those elephants was named Mary. One day, likely after years of being confined and abused, she struck back at a circus employee after he hit her with a sharp weapon called a bullhook—which is still used today by circus employees to control elephants. 

Baby elephant with bullhook.

Mary was hit with a bullhook like the one in this photo. Bullhooks are still used to punish and control elephants today.

Because she fought back, people strung Mary up by a crane to hang her to death in front of the public. The first chain that was wrapped around her neck snapped, and she crashed to the ground, breaking her hip. During the second attempt, she was killed. This innocent individual who longed for nothing more than freedom was tortured to death while crowds of humans looked on. She may be gone, but we will not let her be forgotten. This horrific image will forever serve as a reminder of the atrocities committed by circuses throughout history:


Mary was killed in 1916. And as shocking as it may seem, elephants and other animals are still being abused in circuses today. Unlike humans, animals do not choose to perform. Elephants, big cats, bears, and other animals perform difficult tricks like standing on their heads or balancing on pedestals because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t.


Circus trainers often use whips, tight collars, muzzles, bullhooks, and even electric prods to force animals to perform.


Circuses travel in all weather extremes and often for days at a time. During transport, animals are often confined to boxcars, trailers, and trucks. They have no choice but to eat, sleep, poop, and pee in the same tiny space. Many are even denied regular food, water, and veterinary care. Once they reach the venue, animals usually remain caged or chained in arena basements and parking lots.


Many circuses profit from animal suffering, but you can help stop this. Never go to a circus that uses animals, and tell your friends and family why they shouldn’t either. 

Mary isn’t the only elephant who was publicly killed because of the circus. An elephant named Tyke was shot nearly 100 times on a street in Hawaii after she killed a trainer. Her story is just one more reason NEVER to attend a circus that uses animals.