Its intermission at the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers
Circus during its July performance in Queens, NY. Time for the elephant
rides. Backstage, the elephant trainer prepares Jewel, one of four elephants,
to give rides. Jewel is outfitted with a gaily-colored banner atop which
sits a saddle. It is really more of a platform for holding squirming
children. The banner has bright, yellow stars splashed all over. It
does not, however, hide the heavy chain harness that is winched tightly
against Jewels body to secure the platform; or the lackluster
expression on her face.
Jewel is brought outside and the rides begin. She is led around and
around in a small circle while her trainer shouts at her as they
in what is clearly the interplay of slave and master. "Cmon
Jewel! Over here Jewel. Now!"
The verbal barrage does little to motivate her. What really moves
her is the metal hook he continually pokes her with. Known as a bullhook,
or ankus, it is a tool designed specifically to dominate elephants.
Not only is it deceptively sharp, it is nearly invisible to all but
the most astute observer. It takes little force to deliver pricks
remind the elephant of the pain it can inflict when used more forcefully.
It is also suitable for concealed dragging: just place it in the
of the animals lip or earand pull.
Currently, use of the bullhook is completely legal. Even so, the Clyde
Beatty Circus has come under recent attack by government authorities
for inflicting injuries with it. In April 1999, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) charged the circus with violations of the Animal
Welfare Act, citing that four elephants had bullhook wounds. Nine months
later, the circus was assessed a $10,000 civil penalty to settle the
charges. The USDA agreed to suspend the fine, provided the money would
be used to hire a consultant to instruct them on the proper handling
of elephants. Since the Clyde Beatty Circus is hardly a fledgling operation,
this arrangement is, at best, questionable. One month later, a follow-up
USDA inspection found new wounds on two elephants that were caused by
beatings with a bullhook.
Means for Motivation
While touring New York City in July, Jewels handler is observed
using the hook with discretion. When not poking her, he holds it handle-side
down, so that the sharp end is concealed in his palm. Jewels headdress
has recently been outfitted with a little ring, so that he can hook
the bullhook into that and drag her. But the USDAs ongoing
reports of elephant wounds create the suspicion that the bullhook
may be used
more freely when not in public view. Jewel has two golf-ball sized
holes in her ear. Another elephant, Helen, also has a visible hole
The hole in Helens ear is probably the least of her problems.
For more than a year, shes walked with a visible limp in her
right rear leg. Like many circus elephants, Helen has become increasingly
lame due to lack of proper exercise and the strain of performing
tricks day in and day out. Her disability is so pronounced that last
year, a cruelty officer in New Jersey slapped the circus with charges
for forcing Helen to work while injured.
These charges were recently dismissed, even though Helen was observed
in March by three veterinarians who determined that she has a chronic,
degenerative condition which is aggravated by grueling circus routines.
At the time, Helen was being forced to give rides and perform circus
tasks, including pulling a caravan of tiger cages. Though the circus
claims to have released her from such duties, she is still performing
tricks that put stress on her painful knee, like standing on her hind
legs and kneeling.
The Reality of Retirement
In Defense of Animals (IDA) would like to see Helen relieved
from the pain of constant performing. But we also shudder to think
happen to Helen if shes truly "retired" from circus
life. Her situation is a chilling reminder of the last two disabled
elephants, Conti and Pete, whom the circus removed from service.
Conti and Pete (a nickname for Petunia) were also lame from circus
abuse. Following an outpouring of pressure from animal activists,
made a snap decision last July to "retire" them both. But
there were no green pastures or days in the sun for these elephants.
Within a month, both were dead. Pete collapsed in a field and lay
the ground for two and a half days before circus personnel lifted
her with a crane. Upon rising, Pete drank some water, urinated several
of blood, and dropped dead.
The necropsy report on Pete described hemorrhaging throughout her body.
Her handlers say it resulted from her fall, but what would cause such
a fall? The hemorrhaging may have resulted from her struggle to upright
herself, a struggle which her caretakers allowed her to endure for nearly
three days before intervening. It may also have occurred from beatings.
Although the cause of the elephants deaths will never been
proven, it is the opinion of IDA that they received some sort of
harsh and ugly
treatment which led to their sudden, unexplained deaths. Even if
the elephants collapsed due to lameness, why did the circus wait
Pete back on her feet? Why did Conti die of similar causes less than
two weeks later? The independent veterinarians who conducted the
on Pete refused to do one on Conti, claiming that they were too disturbed
by what they had found on Pete. The USDA has closed the inspection
this matter and seems content with the number of unanswered questions
The tragic deaths of Pete and Conti are not the whole story. Since 1991,
the Clyde Beatty-Cole Circus has been cited six times by the USDA for
a variety of infractions, including unsafe trailers and failure to provide
adequate veterinary care for its elephants.
Veterinary care at Clyde Beatty is at best perfunctory. According to
the USDA, Helen has a paralyzed tail, the result of a truck accident,
and has not been adequately treated for this condition. Because her
tail is immobile, it collects fecal material which stagnates. Bessie,
another elephant, has been urinating blood for months. Untreated and
undiagnosed, the circus dismisses her condition as insignificant. All
four elephants are in need of basic foot care, a vital necessity for
elephants forced to live and work on hard surfaces that are totally
alien to what their feet would encounter in nature.
So goes the life of a circus elephant. On June 13, 2000, Congress held
hearings to consider H.R. 2929, The Captive Elephant Accident Prevention
Act. This bill would, if passed, ban the use of elephants in traveling
shows. Tom Rider, a former elephant trainer, spoke at the hearings.
In his testimony, Rider offered these sobering words:
"I worked with Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus in 1997 as an
elephant keeper and I loaded the children for the elephant ride.
The elephant which we used, Pete or Petunia, was considered to be a dangerous
animal and we were cautioned not to go near her. Despite this, she was
used for rides...carrying as many as ten children at a time on her
"I left Beatty Cole because in White Plains, NY, when Pete did
not perform her act properly, she was taken to the tent, laid down
and five trainers beat her with bullhooks. Pete is now dead."
Barbara Stagno is Northeast Regional Director for In Defense
of Animals, a national organization dedicated to ending the abuse of
animals by defending their rights, welfare and habitats. To learn more
or to join their campaigns call (212) 462-3068 or visit www.idausa.org.
How You Can Help Circus
* Contact: Commissioner Henry Stern, NYC Department
of Parks and Recreation, 830 5 Ave., NY, NY 10021; phone (212) 360-1305;
fax (212) 360-1345. Request that he stop granting permits to perform
in the citys parks to any circus that uses animals.
* Contact: Dr. Ron DeHaven, Animal Care Deputy Administrator, USDA/APHIS/AC,
4700 River Rd., Riverdale, MD 20737. Ask that the USDA revoke Clyde
Beattys permit based on its ongoing, documented record of animal
* Contact your Congressional Representative and ask him/her to support
H.R. 2929. Also contact your U.S. Senators and ask them to introduce
a companion bill in the Senate.