5 min read

This Is How Baby Elephants Are Trained For The Circus

This is the depressing truth behind the greatest show on Earth.

These photos, taken by former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus trainer Sam Haddock, show the brutal process of preparing elephants for the circus. A young elephant calf is tied up with rope, his mother nowhere in sight, while a group of "trainers" contort the young animal into the positions he needs to learn to perform.

Sam Haddock/PETA

In some photos, the so-called trainers can be seen using a bullhook to control the elephant calf. The pointed instruments are used to jab elephants in entertainment or labor into "behaving," and have been banned in several U.S. cities.

Sam Haddock/PETA

The training process is painful, both physically and psychologically - the baby elephants are often brutally ripped away from their mothers before training begins.

Sometimes it turns deadly. An 8-month-old calf named Ricardo was euthanized in 2004 after he fell off a platform during training and broke two legs. A few years earlier, a 3-year-old drowned after running into the water to escape his trainer's bullhook.

Sam Haddock/PETA

Of course, Ringling Bros. has since announced that it would end its circus elephant program - though the company has said they will be retired to the Center for Elephant Conservation, the Florida training and breeding center where these photos were taken. It's unclear if the elephants will still be trained to perform.

Sam Haddock/PETA

But these photos are hardly unique to Ringling Bros. Baby circus elephants around the world go through a similar process to prepare them for performances and make them docile enough to handle.

The process is used in Thailand and other places where elephant rides and labor are common. There, it's known as a "training crush," because it crushes a young elephant's spirit, and can involve beatings, sleep deprivation and starvation.

Sam Haddock/PETA

Sadly, if an elephant is docile enough to be controlled by humans, he has probably gone through a process similar to the one shown above. The best way to avoid supporting these industries is to not support any attraction that features elephants doing tricks, giving rides or otherwise performing - and the same applies to other wild animals.

Fortunately, there are people working to help elephants rescued from scenes like this one. If you'd like to help, you can make a donation to the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for Thailand's elephants, or The Elephant Sanctuary and the Performing Animal Welfare Society, two U.S.-based groups that provide a safe haven for former circus elephants.

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