Shocked Audience Watches What Really Happens To Circus Elephants

<p><a href="">Flickr/Justin Ennis</a></p>
<p><a href="">Flickr/Justin Ennis</a></p>

Atlanta circus-goers reportedly got a clear look at what normally stays backstage at circuses: animal abuse.

The UniverSoul Circus, a single-ring circus based in Atlanta, may have violated a city animal abuse ordinance when it used a sharp tool called a bullhook on a performing elephant on Saturday, according to local animal control officials. The elephant, whose name is Bo, refused to leave the ring, and was subsequently hit with the bullhook as the audience watched, Atlanta's WABE reports. It allegedly took 45 minutes to get the elephant to move backstage.

Animal advocates say that bullhooks, which look like fire pokers with sharp hooks on the ends, are often used to intimidate the elephants - if not outright beat them. Some allege that bullhooks cause acute pain and psychological trauma. Many circuses even use a gray powder called "wonder dust" to cover up wounds made by bullhooks.

(Flickr/angela n.)

"PETA has heard from witnesses who saw this incident and reported that Bo looked terrified," Brittany Peet of PETA told WABE. She said that PETA will release a video of the performance, and we'll update this story when that happens.

In previous videos of the UniverSoul circus act on YouTube, trainers can be seen waving bullhooks in front of the elephants' faces.

The company released an uninformative animal rights policy statement on its website in response to the Bo incident:

In over 19 years and more than 10,000 performances, none of our animal vendors have ever been cited for animal abuse while performing at the UniverSoul Circus. UniverSoul Circus understands and supports all efforts to monitor and regulate the treatment of animals. We work closely with local, state and federal agencies to ensure that our commitment to a high standard of animal care is upheld. Any and all animal acts that perform with the circus must be in compliance with federal, state and local authorities.

While trainers have never been cited for animal abuse while performing, this is far from the first time the circus has been accused of poor animal care. The company does not have an exhibitor license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and instead leases its animals from exhibitors. These exhibitors have been cited multiple times for animal abuse while working with UniverSoul. The citations include failure to provide adequate veterinary care for a sick elephant, improperly caring for a chained tiger, exposing caged animals to dangerous toxic cleaning agents and dozens of other animal welfare issues.