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Circus Elephant Is Forced To Pull Children On Sleds Through Snow

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In a new video, a captive elephant trudges through a snowy field, pulling a line of five sleds behind him. An adult rides on the first sled, while four children — all bundled up in coats, hats and snow pants — ride on the other sleds.

The children whoop and laugh as a trainer, carrying a whip, urges the elephant to keep moving forward.

“Come on, boy,” the trainer says in German. “Come on, big boy. That was fun, huh?”

The children may be having fun, but it’s unlikely the elephant would be having the same experience.

The elephant, named Mambo, is owned by a German circus company called the Reutlinger Weihnachtscircus that performs all over Europe. During these performances, Mambo, as well as five other elephants — Nanda, Tonga, Kimba and Betty — are forced to do unnatural tricks like stand on their back legs, balance on tiny stools and carry acrobats on their backs.

To get elephants to perform this way, they’re put through a brutal training process referred to as a crush. Trainers will beat, starve and sleep deprive the elephants until their spirits are broken, and the elephants eventually choose to obey commands rather than experience more pain and trauma.

But it doesn’t stop there. Trainers continually use tools like whips, bullhooks and even stun guns to force elephants to perform, which places the animals in a perpetual state of fear.

While it’s not clear what prompted the circus company to take Mambo outside to pull kids in sleds, Will Anderson, elephant campaign associate for In Defense of Animals, believes it’s an irresponsible move — and one that doesn’t take the elephant’s well-being into account.

“Elephants can go into snow and colder temperatures for brief periods of time, but it’s all dependent upon the conditioning of the elephant, the temperature and length of exposure,” Anderson told The Dodo. “Zoo elephants left out in below freezing temperatures have suffered severe frostbite on their ears and tails.”

There’s also an issue of safety. In the past, captive elephants have been known to violently turn on their trainers after putting up with years of abuse. For instance, an elephant named Tyke mauled his trainer during a live performance in Hawaii before racing out of the arena and onto the streets.

Fortunately, nothing disastrous happens in this video, but Mambo is shown to have metal covers over the sharp ends of his tusks, probably to ensure that he can’t harm anyone with them.

While Anderson was disturbed by this video, he isn’t overly shocked — elephants are exploited in many parts of the world, including the U.S.

“It did not surprise me that the person controlling this elephant was comfortable having such a glorious animal pulling kids around in the snow,” Anderson said. “Reducing highly intelligent and emotionally and psychologically complex elephants [to circus animals] is always difficult to watch both because it’s a reminder of what elephants have to endure, but also because it perpetuates the lies these children are learning.”

Mambo isn’t the only elephant outside in the snow — the video shows at least three other elephants standing behind a fence, which suggests that they were all being used for performances or rides on that particular day.

The Dodo reached out to Reutlinger Weihnachtscircus for comment but did not immediately receive a reply.

While scenes like the one in the video are upsetting, organizations like IDA are working hard to spread awareness about the difficult lives of captive elephants in circuses and zoos — and more and more people are choosing not to support these ventures, but to appreciate elephants in the wild, which is where they truly belong.

To help captives elephants like Mambo, you can make a donation to IDA.