Circus animal exploitation

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Updated 1/4/17:  Protesters say Ringling abuse continues; Lake Havasu, AZ Shrine circus. California bans bullhooks! Jersey City is on the cusp of enacting an ordinance; Rhode Island bans the bullhook. At ‘new’ arrow. Don’t miss “Bullhook: Weapon of Choice” video. Scroll down to find it below the “No Fun for Elephants” video screen.
~This page was created in response to 2011 Shrine Circus performances in Missoula, MT. Be sure to scroll down for video and more. 

More on bans, ordinances, etc. – click
Local restrictions, US & Canada – click
USDA citations & other problems – click


  • MISSOULA LEADS THE WAY IN MONTANA!!! First city to pass ordinance banning wild/exotic animal shows! Read the Missoulian news report of 9/15/15.
  •  Missoulian editorial: “Circus can come to town without exotic animals” – here7/29/15. Thank you, Missoulian!!!
  • Gratitude goes to many: City Council members who stood firmly on the side of compassion and justice; Missoula citizens (including a law professor at  U. of Montana) who proposed the ordinance and worked for its passage; citizens who supported the ordinance at council meetings; and the many from Missoula and surrounding counties who, with smiles on their faces, stood on the front lines at the Shrine and Carson & Barnes circuses for many years past–raising awareness while often facing scorn from circus-goers. Remaining silent was not an option.

  • New Arrow1/3/17: “Circus protesters say Ringling Bros. continues to abuse animals after retiring its elephants,” Miami New Times
  • 9/28/16: “Shrine Circus brings animal rights protesters out to SARA Park” – don’t miss the comment about elephants getting “cubes of hay to keep them satisfied” here.
  • 9/1/16: “Bullhooks to control elephants banned in CA” – here and here.
  • 8/18/16: “Jersey City anti-circus bill clears hurdle” here.
  • 7/26/16: “Dublin bans use of wild animals in circuses” here.
  • 7/21/16: “Rhode Island becomes 1st state to ban elephant bullhooks” here.
  • 5/26/16: “These clowns aren’t happy about Pittsburgh’s proposed circus act ban” –  Note who else speaks against it–the CEO of the local zoo! Birds of a feather… Here.
  • 4/28/16: “Shrine Circus makes elephants & lions disappear from Saskatchewan shows” – here & here.
  • 4/8/16: Cole Bros. cancels entire 2016 tour: See #ColeBros
  • Cole Bros. Circus not touring in 2016article via the North Carolina Azalea Festival, here. Last Cole Bros. Facebook post; recent (3/10/16) article indicating that Cole Bros. will appear in Havelock, NC WITHOUT animals! 
  • 2/18/16: “Melbourne bans exotic animals from circus shows” – here.
  • 1/21/16: “Polish capital Warsaw bans circus animals” – here. Earlier, the town of Slupsk in northern Poland did the same…here.
  • 11/24/15: India’s circus elephants get new lease on life after they’re whisked away in a jumbo ambulance…here
  • 11/18/15: Zebras escape UniverSoul Circus in Philly, here. Also, scroll down at this page for other problems with this circus–look for an article (under other circus news) and a video.
  • 8/6/15 – Austin, TX bans bullhook – here
  • 7/28/15 – Asheville, NC bans wild animal acts city-wide – here
  • 3/5/15: Ringling Brothers to phase out elephant acts by 2018! – story here & here. PBS Newshour segment here.
  • Netherlands approves ban on wild animals in circusesclick
  • “New-age circuses after Mexico bans animals” – seriously, robot animals!
  • “It’s curtains for the world’s oldest touring circus after Mexico passes animal law” – Excerpt: “To finish, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson came over the loudspeakers. One tiger stood on its hind-legs moving around the ring as Flores led him, mimicking the famous zombie dance. The others remained on their posts, submissive, nearly zombies themselves.” Click here.

Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution; ENCOUNTER at Ravalli County fair, 2014: Here’s a misguided attempt (by the fair board?) to boost attendance with free appearances by exploited elephants. See Ravalli Republic newspaper article here–includes photo (don’t miss the one comment posted to it). My letter to the editor of the newspaper is here. Visit  KPAX for footage of elephant rides (apparently removed from website). Here’s what I found on Elephant Encounter:

  • Video: Morris uses a bullhook on elephant (who cries out) to force compliance.
  • William Morris & Family USDA Animal Welfare Act violationshere
  • Elephant Encounter video (watch closely between 1:00 and 1:06–is that a bullhook he’s holding? Need to learn more about bullhooks? See this video.)
  • Website: Morris family’s Elephant Encounter (page is gone?)
  • Elephant Encounter Facebook page post of 8/21/14 captioned, “Trying to make enough to retire.”  The photo shows an elephant being forced to give rides; a comment posted by Elephant Encounter below the photo reads, “This was taken last week at the zoo where we try to keep working between fairs.”

Shouldn’t these people find a way to fund their retirement years without condemning others to years of slavery?!? NOTE, 4/28/16: Wm. Morris apparently has recently passed away; see this.

  • ***YIKES*** WATCH AS TRAINERS LOSE CONTROL of frustrated, oppressed elephants used for children’s rides in Missouri — ADI Vimeo.
  • San Diego Co. Fair: NO MORE ELEPHANT RIDES (3/27/14)! Look here.
  • “Death of Mexico’s extreme circus: How central American country is bringing an end to 200-year-old tradition as it embraces animal rights” (Aug. 2014) – here
  • Coahuila – latest Mexican state to take action against animal circuses, bringing the country one step closer to a nationwide ban – ADI.
  • 6/11/14: Mexico City bans circus animal acts!  In a press conference, Jesus Sesma, the politician who pushed the law, described it as promoting “a respect for living beings who are not human.” Full article is here. Please remember to visit our Act! page and support the U.S. bill that restricts wild and exotic animals from use in circuses.
G. Bernofsky photo; World Wide Film

G. Bernofsky photo; World Wide Film


*BLOG POST – “Shrine Circus 2015: ‘Stand and turn’ for animals” – Twenty-two of us showed up 53 times to peacefully advocate for circus animals. We ranged in age from 6 to 60+. We were educators, retirees, social service providers, scientists, and insurance claims examiners. We were called “f—ing dopers.” We were belittled and told to get a life. We were told we had courage. We were thanked. We even had something to cheer about! Find the story here.
*Our outreach was covered by KECI-TV Missoula–thanks, KECI!
*In March of 2015 I addressed the Missoula County Public Schools board of trustees regarding their support of animal exploitation via circus ticket distribution through the schools; find that public comment here.

SHRINE CIRCUS 2014: Missoula outreach:  About 15 of us showed up over the five performances–down from our 2013 effort–to advocate for circus animals. It appeared that circus attendance was also down. This year, an increasing number of people told us, “I agree with you, but I have to take him/her” as they led their child into the Adams Center. Wait a minute–aren’t parents supposed to transmit their values about right and wrong to their kids?!? Could it be that parents feel obligated to take their children after the kids receive free tickets distributed through Missoula County Public Schools? See my messages of 3/10/15 and 3/12/13 delivered to trustees here. Consider sending your own.

Slide18SHRINE CIRCUS 2013: We encountered difficulties with venue authorities in 2013 that were eventually civilly worked out to everyone’s satisfaction. See “First Amendment Rights and the Pursuit of Animal Rights” at the Other Nations blog.

SHRINE CIRCUS 2012:  The Shrine Circus appeared at the Adams Center (UM campus) in Missoula for five shows. Local activists peacefully educated thousands of circus-goers about the sad, abused lives of circus animals.

Slide18Read my widely-shared 2012 first-person account, “Circus reveals more about human animal than circus animal,” here. Some circus personnel, some Shriners, and some parents behaved in a less than exemplary manner.

Shrine organizations contract with a variety of circuses to produce shows on behalf of the Shrine. The Western Montana Shrine Club contracts with the Jordan World Circus, a circus that no longer possesses a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (the regulatory & oversight agency) license and now leases its animals from other animal exhibitors.  Check out these links:

*Get the Facts: Shrine Circuses from Born Free
*PETA Fact Sheet on Jordan World Circus USDA violations
*PETA Fact Sheet on Shrine Circuses-various exhibitor violations
*PETA Fact Sheet on William Morris (provides elephant); violations
*2007 New York Times investigation into financing Shriner hospitals
* “Circus Cruelty is Coming to Town” Animal Defenders of Yuma
*Complaint filed against Jordan World Circus – here
*“The Shriners’ shameful circus” – Mercy for Animals

BOTTOM LINE: Charitable work for one species should not depend upon the abuse and exploitation of another. Rather than attend the circus–which sends all the wrong messages to kids about our obligation toward other species–encourage your family and friends to make a donation to the hospital if they so wish (note this, from the NYTimes piece mentioned above: The vast majority of the operating expenses for Shriners hospitals are paid from the hospitals’ endowment. Shriners charity events and assessments on each Shriner account for about 2 percent). Or, contact the Western Montana Shrine Club (update: page has been removed) to see if they can earmark a donation for “provid(ing) transportation and lodging for children and their families at the Shrine Hospital for Children in Spokane,” which is what they indicate a portion of the circus proceeds are used for.

Do you know a Shriner? Encourage him to start advocating for animal-free circuses. We have nothing against Shriners…and everything against animal exploitation. Even when the circus tickets are free, the cost is too steep!

Check out this video of a Shrine Circus elephant, a slave to his handler, forced to give rides. Having been robbed of everything good and natural in an elephant’s life, the intelligent creature appears utterly defeated as he is dragged on with a sharp bullhook (contrary to common belief, their skin is sensitive enough to feel the landing of a fly!).
Scroll down for 2011’s report.


  • 8/2/14: Protesters concerned about animal welfare at Shrine Circus in Paris, Ont. here
  • 3/23/14: Elephants escape Moolah Shrine circus in Missouri, trample cars – Wild animal circus acts are already unmitigated disasters for the captive animals…is it going to take a human tragedy before our species is motivated (or forced) to change? Read the news here and here (PETA’s report, here), and check out the Moolah Shrine’s circus page (interestingly, that page is entirely GONE. The new Moolah Shrine page is here.) Be sure to enlarge the pictures of the pathetic performing bears–leashed and with their mouths strapped shut (you can find one remaining bear pic here–until that’s removed, too!). 
  • 3/24/14: L.A. Shrine Circus: The show goes on WITHOUT animals! Find it here.
  • Posted 4/19/14: Circus attendees at Shrine Circus (Hamid Circus) in Topeka witness dog abuse (this is a 2/25/14 item that I missed). Check out the many ignorant comments posted to it.
  • 4/23/13: Tiger escapes at KS Shrine Circus – videoarticle
G. Bernofsky photo; World Wide Film

G. Bernofsky photo; World Wide Film

2011’s SHRINE CIRCUS: The Western Montana Shrine Club Circus arrived at Missoula’s Adams Center for performances Friday and Saturday, April 22 & 23, 2011. Although the Shrine Circus doesn’t own animals, it contracts with other exhibitors who have failed to meet minimal standards of animal welfare. A local radio station offered a chance to “win a ride on an elephant for up to four people!” Check out this video of a Shrine Circus elephant, a slave to his handler, forced to give rides. Having been robbed of everything good and natural in an elephant’s life, the intelligent creature appears utterly defeated as he is dragged on with a sharp bullhook (contrary to common belief, their skin is sensitive enough to feel the landing of a fly!). Bottom line–charity for disabled and injured kids–an admirable, important endeavor–does not need to rely on animal pain and exploitation, and never, ever should!

ANIMAL DEFENDERS INTERNATIONAL – Watch this video to fully understand the life of a circus elephant beyond the brief, public performance. Read more from ADI here.


  • Animals in Traveling Circuses: The science on suffering – download file here
  • Mother Nature Network: The Circus Elephant in the Room – click
  • Bullhooks used on circus elephants… click
  • Congressional briefings on numerous circus animal issues here
  • More Beautiful Wild: Born Free USA’s resource page – click
  • The Cruelest Show on Earth – Mother Jones, Nov/Dec 2011click
  • – “Be their voice” click
  • ALDF: “Captive elephants need better protections” – 2/26/15 – click
  • “No ethical way to keep elephants in captivity” – click

***WATCH!***“Bullhook: Weapon of Choice” video – ElephantWatch***

7/7/15: Mexico bans wild animals in circuses–but there’s no place for the to go – here

7/1/15: “Animal rights campaigners outraged as big cat ‘circus’ set to open in market town” – here
Also posted 7/1: From YouTube – Circus workers attack animal rights protesters in California – here
6/14/15: “65 year old man killed by escaped elephant in Germany” –

6/5/15:  Austin, TX “Circus animal ordinance stalls in committee”
Ketchum bans animal circuses – here
5/9/15: Geo. Carden Internat’l Circus (now owned by Springfield, MO Shrine) to phase out elephant acts – here

4/15/15: “S.F. board votes to ban wild, exotic animal performances in city”
(final vote still to come)here
3/4/15: “Trial date set for UniverSoul circus alleged elephant abuse” – 
 (a bullhook to the mouth is alleged–includes video)

2/19/15: “Policy change at US Cellular Center bans circus for animal welfare” – here
1/20/15: “PETA: Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus violate Animal Welfare Act again”


  • “Free the elephants? Yes: The circus is no place for intelligent wild creatures”: A circus historian and enthusiast speaks out, here.
  • “Gainesville circus stop brings out fans, animals rights protesters” – “Obviously there must be some kind of cruelty involved in training the animals and of course they are happier in the wild than in captivity,” said UF mechanical engineering sophomore Stefan Hochhaus while waiting to buy his ticket Saturday, “but at the same time, it is fun to come to the circus and see the animals.” Full article from 1/13/14 is here.
  • News from India: “Ban likely on animal shows, circus industry struggles to survive”includes video.  Excerpt: “Forty-year-old elephant Muniya, shackled for 35 years, has often tried to break her chains.” 12/18/13 article is here.
  • Five facts about elephants in circuses you need to know – 12/19/13, here
  • Circus elephants are paraded through Clevelandclick; N.E. OH Circus
  • Cruelty Community boycotts Ringling Bros., 10/24/13 – click
  • 10/23/13: Los Angeles bans use of bull hooks on elephants – article & video
  • St. Louis Animal Rights Advocates to Protest Elephant Abuse at Ringling Bros. Circus –  The circus is in town this weekend, and St. Louis animal-rights activists are turning out to try to convince showgoers that the Greatest Show on Earth is actually the saddest.” Read entire story here.
  • 7/23/13: Protestors worried about animal abuse at UniverSoul Circus, includes video. Find it here. The circus-goers repeat the same selfish or erroneous beliefs we’ve all heard so many times.
  • 7/16/13: Belgium set to prohibit wild animals in circuses! Good news here
  • U.K. circuses to be banned from using wild animals! Government publishes plans to ban use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England from 1 December 2015. Read more at (4/16/13) The Guardian.
  • Another partial victory: Ireland!  In what has been described as “The end of an era,” the owner of Duffy’s Circus has announced that lions and tigers will not be performing with the circus for the rest of the season, and are unlikely to do so in the future. The news has been welcomed by Animal Defenders International (ADI) and Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN), who are campaigning for the end of all wild animals in circuses in Ireland. Read more

* “Baby elephants’ circus misery” here, from In Defense of Animalsk (video)
*  “An Apology to Elephants,” HBO documentary narrated by Lily Tomlin. Access the 50-second trailer from this page.

Nosey the Elephant and the terribly inadequate USDA oversight on violations: IDA’s Action Center (provides background); videoFacebook page; news video

BOYCOTT THE  BIG TOP! Check out the national schedule for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. “So, you didn’t join the circus as a kid. Now you can join the circus protest. And that’s where amazing things really can happen.”


Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” If you think circus animal exploitation/cruelty is wrong, please do not remain silent. To learn more, peruse the selections and links on this page from a variety of advocacy groups. You might start at our own Other Nations blog “Circuses: Quit Clowning with Animals’ Lives.”


CULPEPPER & MERRIWEATHER CIRCUS was in Stevensville, MT 6/21/13:
*USDA decision denying an application for an award of attorneys fees and reiterating violation of the Animal Welfare Act (“willful neglect and disregard”) by C&M Circus
*USDA violations fact sheet here
*Pacing, circling tigers in tiny cages – video here of C&M animals
*Eatonville News account from 2003 of C&M circus – here; Excerpt:  “Yes, We Know a Circus is Coming to Town. No, we do not support this circus. ENN will never financially, or otherwise, support animal cruelty in any form, especially when the cruelty is called “entertainment,” and is aimed at children.” ~EatonvilleNews.Net

*The Balloonman Blog: “Circus was in town…but without any lions, tigers and elephants” – here  “… a new town every day for 32 weeks from March to October.”
* Why Joe & I Don’t Attend the Circus from Plain City, OH here
; deals specifically with C&M circus.
*C&M performance on YouTube here

From Big Cat Rescue: In circus programs and on Web sites, the industry reassures the public it uses positive reinforcement on the animals. Yet, during shows, audiences watch as big-cat trainers crack whips while cats do tricks. Elephants are accompanied by men with bullhooks, sticks with sharp metal hooks on one end. No matter how they’re marketed, whips and hooks are not positive reinforcement. They serve as continual reminders to the animals of what could happen if they don’t comply (source).

Circus Animal Abuse: Parents Conflicted Over Taking Their Children To The Show (VIDEO) Note: hang in there through the brief (only a matter of seconds) cut-away to politics while video connections are sorted out with the guests on this discussion segment. Read and view here. In addition to the interview with parents and experts, view Alec Baldwin’s ad for boycotting circuses that use animals. (I was unable to embed it on this page.) It can additionally be found on YouTube.

UPDATES on ANNE THE ELEPHANT U.K. TRIAL: Anne (57 years old) was chained and beaten in a sickening display of cruelty (scroll down, way down, to “Abuse of Britain’s last circus elephant caught on camera” for video). Trial update from Animal Defenders International, here.

Orange County, CA fair board ends elephant rides at county fair; watch the Animal Defenders International undercover video that convinced them to do the right thing. Read more and view it here.

BREAK THE CHAIN: the campaign to bring an end to circus animal suffering in the USA, led by Animal Defenders International. Click here.

CARSON & BARNES CIRCUS — appeared in Missoula July 9-10, 2011
***Davenport bound Carson & Barnes Circus pays Feds to avoid Court over Elephant Injuries: click here
***PETA’s footage of C&B elephant training (brutal): click here
***C&B fact sheet–includes USDA violations: here
***C&B elephants’ origins: here
***Missoula protest report: at our blog
***According to Animal Defenders International, “The USDA inspected Carson & Barnes Circus 42 times from 2007 to 2010. The average cost per inspection was $1363 – a total cost of $57,246.”

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee:
A fantastic home for retired, troubled, abused elephants. The website contains excellent information, including a K-8 curriculum to download for free.

20/20: Under an Elephant’s Tough Exterior- A 15 minute video on elephants in the wild, the bonds they maintain with each other, and the traumas they suffer during and in captivity. Features the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.  It’s excellent–worth the 15 minute investment.

Circus bans: Global Action Network

Link updated: Activist Dick Gregory on why the circus is modern slavery: video.

Say NO to exploitation and abuse of elephants in the circus industry. They are subject to extreme confinement during transport and off-seasons, endure onerous (sometimes brutal) training regimens, and suffer through long days of crushing boredom in chains. And if that’s not enough, “The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) does not prohibit the use of bullhooks, whips, electrical shock prods, or other such training devices” (from link immediately above).

The tricks that animals are forced to perform–bears balancing on balls, apes riding motorcycles, elephants standing on two legs–are physically uncomfortable and behaviorally unnatural. The whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bullhooks, and other tools used during circus acts are reminders that the animals are being forced to perform. These superficial “performances” teach audiences nothing about how animals behave under natural circumstances. Animals in circuses are often portrayed as either ferocious or stupid compared to their “brave” or “commanding” human counterparts; their true nature is never seen. Read more (link is broken) from Mercy for Animals.

Travel can be torture: Animals in circuses either travel in 18-wheelers or by train. During transport and between performances, tigers, who in the wild would secure 75-2,000 square miles, are kept in cages with barely enough room to turn around. Elephants, who walk up to 25 miles a day with their families in their natural habitat, are shackled in chains by their front and back legs so that they can’t take a step forward or backward. They are forced to eat, sleep, and defecate in the same trailers, where they can be kept for stretches of more than 24 hours. Often the animals are not let off the railroad cars immediately upon arrival in their destination, either because of traffic conditions or because the train arrived too early or late. In this instance, the animals are forced to wait inside of the railroad cars for hours—even in extreme temperatures.   Read more here from In Defense of Animals (page no longer available at that link).

Is it safe to transport an elephant in the back of a semi trailer or railroad car? Although elephants are intelligent and physically coordinated and can balance in a moving vehicle for short periods of time, prolonged transportation in a moving vehicle can cause fatigue. Circus elephants are transported nearly year round. The travel can become grueling, causing undue stress for the elephant. An elephant’s need to walk, posture comfortably, consume live vegetation and socialize with other elephants is not possible when confined in a transport container. Read more here from the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

Abuse of Britain’s last circus elephant caught on camera
Animal rights campaigners have called for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses after undercover video footage revealed shocking abuse of the UK’s last circus elephant. Read it here. “Inquiry starts into elephant abuse video,” read and view here.

Britain to ban animals from circuses: “Animal Welfare Minister Jim Paice recently told MPs that a new policy was ‘close to completion.’” Greece follows suit: “The government has suggested an amendment in the law on animal rights that will increase the criminal liability for torturing animals, a media report said. Violators will be jailed.” Bolivia was the first country in the world to ban ALL animals, wild & domestic; their law defines the use of animals in circuses an act of cruelty.

From Australia: Say NO to Animals in Circuses – includes undercover training video. Click here.

click image

Kids…set Leo the Lion free! (Sadly, this website seems to be down; see this.)
Scare off the lion tamers! Click here to play the game, brought to you by Say NO to Animals in Circuses. Good luck to you and the lions!