7 min read

Elderly Circus Elephant Is Hit And Cursed At When She Moves Too Slowly

This is what happens behind the scenes.

<p>PETA</p>

Last spring, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus finally retired its long-suffering elephants from performing. But there are still dozens of circuses that use performing elephants - including the Carson & Barnes Circus, which bills itself as the "world's biggest big-top show."

And this video shows exactly why they don't belong there.

In the clip below, taken back in 2013, elephant handler Habib Omar can be seen bathing three elephants named Bunny, Becky and Libby. When Libby apparently neglects to move forward quickly enough, Omar turns on her.

"You fucking piece of shit!" he can be heard shouting. "Head down, you motherf*cker."

At one point, he uses a bull hook to force the 49-year-old elephant's head down toward the hose. While circuses often claim that bull hooks - long sticks topped with pointed ends - are only used to gently guide elephants, they're often used quite harshly and can break through elephants' skin.

Warning: Video contains harsh language

Of course, the clip is just a brief look into the lives of the circus elephants at Carson & Barnes. But it's a sad taste of what they have to deal with between performances.

"I think what that really shows is the essence of what's happening to the elephants behind the scenes," Rachel Matthews, associate director of captive animal law enforcement for PETA, told The Dodo. "When he's tugging on Libby's ear, and yelling and shouting at her."

Carson & Barnes has a shockingly extensive history of welfare issues - the circus did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Matthews said Omar in particular has been involved in previous welfare violations.

Earlier this year, PETA obtained footage from the circus and noticed that Bunny, who's around 48 years old and was under Omar's care at the time, appeared to be limping. The group reported it to the USDA.

A still from footage that showed Bunny holding her front right leg stiff, like a peg leg | PETA

A full two months later, the USDA investigated and found that Bunny was in fact limping, noting in an inspection report that she was holding her limb in a way that was "suggestive of some underlying problem that may be causing discomfort." Both Omar and the circus' veterinarian claimed not to have recognized the issue.

"Habib [Omar] and the other workers there hadn't even noticed," Matthews said, which meant Bunny had gone without medical treatment for several months.

"Elephants often experience chronic pain, stiffness, and soreness as a result of being chained, forced to stand on hard surfaces, and being denied adequate exercise," Katie Arth, a media assistant manager for PETA, told The Dodo. "In the wild, elephants spend most of their waking hours being active - walking, grazing, and socializing - but in the circus their movement is extremely restricted."

And back in June, the circus agreed to to pay a $16,000 fine after the USDA cited it for a 2014 incident, in which the circus asked audience members to bang on their seats and make noise, causing several elephants to become frightened and break free - two of the animals were left with cuts after the incident.

"Carson & Barnes is notorious for forcing ailing animals to travel and perform despite unrelieved pain and suffering," Brittany Peet, director of captive animal law enforcement for PETA, said in a statement earlier this year.

A young elephant during a Ringling Bros. training session | Sam Haddock/PETA

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg for circus elephants. They're often taken away from their mothers at just hours old, before being subjected to a brutal training regimen designed to crush their spirits so they're more easily handled. Like big cats, they're often beaten or frightened into performing. And they spend their lives traveling from performance to performance, rarely getting a chance to stretch their legs or engage in natural behaviors.

And so for elephants like Libby, getting cursed at is just the tip of the iceberg.

Fortunately, there are ways you can help. The best thing to do is avoid supporting any circuses or other shows that feature performing elephants. You can contact Carson & Barnes to let them know how you feel about elephants in the circus.

And to help elephants like Libby and Bunny, you can make a donation to the Performing Animal Welfare Society, which has rescued several former circus elephants and campaigns against their use in circus shows.