Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taking a Stand

If you have read Possumlady Place for any amount of time, you know that I'm a big fan and supporter of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. In turn, I'm firmly against the use of any wild animals in circuses.

You can then imagine my dismay when at my office, an all staff email went out on Thursday offering staff discount tickets to the upcoming Ringling Brothers Circus. The email literally turned my stomach. Apparently, the PR machine of Ringling was reaching out to various children's organizations. I quickly flew off an email to our HR director stating my concern. It should be noted that I'm good friends with the head of our HR department and I knew she was swamped and without her assistant for three weeks due to an injury and upcoming surgery. So, I was hesitant sending the email and tried to word it without being accusatory.

She sent me a reply that stated "okay, fine...but it IS for children and they approached US". At this point I decided to go and talk with her, but by the time I reached her office she had already left for the day.

By the time I was driving home I had a massive headache. I started berating myself, "why do you let these things get you SO upset! Why can't you just shake your head, realizing that awful things go on day after day and there is really nothing you can do about it."

The next day I decided I would go and talk to my friend. I walked into her office stating that I knew she was crazed with work and this is probably the LAST thing she wants to deal with, but...She said she was not mad at all and knows that I'm a big animal lover and also knows that some of the ways that they treat animals can be "construed" as animal abuse. Construed?? In my calm voice I said I could forward an undercover video that was taken at a circus training facility. In it you see an elephant chained in its stall with circus employees beating its legs with baseball bats. The video is complete with audio and the screams of that elephant is something that I will never be able to forget. My friend then said "Christine, you know there are a lot of people who just don't care" I then said that well may be, and I hope I'm not friends with any of these people, BUT, I also think there are a number of folks who just don't KNOW what is going on and I think we should at least give them some facts. The HR director then said she would send another email out stating that an employee voiced concerns about the treatment of animals in circuses and would attach my fact sheet that I got from CRY (Circus Reform Yes), an organization based in Minnesota.

Here is what was attached:

• Since 1990 elephants in performance situations have caused 30 human deaths and over 100 injuries worldwide. Since 1990 captive big cats have been responsible for 75 human attacks, and about one-third resulted in fatal injuries. (Statistics compiled by API)
• Most circuses have long lists of non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act, and many fail to meet minimal standards aimed at insuring public safety and animal welfare. (Fact sheets for every circus kept by the USDA and compiled by API)
• Wild animals in the circus lead unnatural lives of intense confinement, chaining up to 22 hours a day, performances on demand, and are often kept in check with the standard tools of the trade- bullhooks (a long rod with a sharp metal hook used on elephants to control or punish), whips, and shock collars for primates. Having no relief from this lifestyle, they become stressed and are prone to unpredictable and dangerous behavior. Most experts agree that when elephants rampage it is because they are angry. (Congressman Bill McCollum, Chairman, Subcommittee on Crime)
• What keeps an elephant under control lies in the elephant’s training. The training can be severe, using techniques that include prolonged hitting by the elephant trainer with clubs, stabbing with the point of the ankus (bullhook), electricity, electric prods, prolonged chaining, and food deprivation. This is what keeps the general public safe from the wild elephant. (Joel J. Parrott, DVM, Director, The Oakland Zoo)
• Circus animals are routinely kept in chains or small cages for up to 22 hours a day. If a Minnesota resident kept their dog or cat like wild animals in the circus are kept, they would be guilty of a felony under the MN Anti-Cruelty Statute, Ch. 343.
• There are 26 US cities that have prohibited wild animal circuses, and hundreds in Europe that have prohibited or severely restricted performing animal acts. Recently the country of Austria added its name to the growing list, and currently four US cities/states are considering the issue.
• Sears, Mastercard and Toys R Us have all dropped their sponsorships of animal circuses. Locally Roundy’s (Rainbow Foods), and Medtronic have dropped their sponsorships. Both the Lions Club International and Kiwanis International recommend their local chapters do not use wild animal acts as fundraisers.

She sent out the email and I felt a little better. Later in the day she came by and told me she got more than a few emails from staff thanking her for the email. Most said they felt uncomfortable about the circus but didn't know what to say. Another co-worker told me she was in our lunchroom and a table of staff were talking about the email. Some folks were unaware of the abuse that went on in circuses and the whole table agreed that they would never take their children to a circus that included wild animals in their act.

Somewhere I read that "The question should not be can they think or can they communicate with us. The question should be can they suffer."

I feel SO much better!

Now, for your viewing entertainment, I'm posting a video that some of you may have seen. It first appeared on the CBS Evening News, then later on CBS's Sunday Morning program. It is from the Elephant Sanctuary and shows the wonderful and unique relationship between an elephant named Tarra and "her" dog Bella. I'm posting both a link and the video in case one doen't work.




las794 said...

I didn't realize circus animal treatment was so bad--thanks for enlightening everyone. And the video was priceless!

Dog_geek said...

I love the odd couple video. And bravo to you for sticking to your guns and standing up for what you know is right. I'm sure that your efforts were very appreciated by many.

It always makes me so sad to read about attacks (like the recent chimpanzee attack) by wild animals that should never have been in that position to begin with.

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

I'm proud of you Christine for standing up with your beliefs.

Mary said...


I saw Tarra and Bella a while back. It was so heartwarming and sweet.

I know you feel much better now. Your friend did you and so many others a great service - just keeping them informed instead of ignorant.

Good job!

Now, take care of that headache.


KGMom said...

Christine--GOOD FOR YOU. I am standing up and CHEERING FOR YOU ALL THE WAY.

You go girl.

"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke

And I would add--good women. You are a GOOD woman!

possumlady said...

Oh las794 you made my day! I honestly believe that if every decent person found out what was going on in the circus industry, wild animals acts would be a thing of the past. Now, you just need to spread the word...

Thanks everyone for your support. It's so easy for the pr machine of the circus industry. All they have to do is smirk, shake their heads and paint everyone that is against wild animal acts as a crazy animal rights nutjob.

Thanks also Donna for the Burke quote. I do love that one and have to remind myself of it often.

Anonymous said...

Most circus animals are not treated like this. These videos are aberrant behavior and are shown over and over. Circus animals are expensive; for the owners to mistreat them would be throwing money away.

possumlady said...

Dear Anonymous,

please state where you get your facts that most circus animals are not treated that way. Just look at the Elephant Sanctuary's website and look at the background of the elephants they have rescued. Yes, some came from zoos, but many came from circuses and have horrific injuries either from trainers or from other animals that were never taken care of properly. Even with out all the injuries, do you really believe that keeping wild animals chained for up to 22 hours is not abuse??

Please look at the background for Tina, one of the lucky ones that The Elephant Sanctuary took in. Most elephants develop severe arthritis in their feet from standing on hard surfaces all day long and not having the ability to walk the 15-30 miles a day that their bodies were designed for. Tina developed osteomilitis in her feet. A terrible bone disease. How was she treated? By having her stand in vats of formaldehyde where she developed severe burns on her feet so that she could barely walk.

Please give me some facts I can work with here. Also a name or moniker would be nice. It is very easy to hide behind the veil of anonymity here in the blogsphere.

possumlady said...

Let me paste a part of a letter from Carol Buckley, Founder of the Elephant Sanctuary.

The number of documented abuses of elephants in circus is staggering. Of the thirty-six circuses permitted to operate in Tennessee over the past three years, nineteen have had performing elephant acts. Every one of those elephant acts has been cited by the USDA for Animal Welfare Act violations. The Elephant Sanctuary has prepared a document summarizing USDA citations and complaints filed with local authorities against these circuses. This document encompasses 52 pages with each incident described in a short paragraph.

Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus and Hawthorn Corporation top the list, with more than 80 citations each between 1992 and 2002—twice the number of the third circus on the list. Citations include failure to provide adequate veterinary care, failure to provide minimum space to elephants stored in transport trailers, elephants chained by two legs, keeping elephants in solitary confinement, working a full-term pregnant female four days before the birth of her calf, and incidents of physical violence against elephants. These include a circus employee kicking an elephant in the face and stabbing it twice, serious chemical burns from a foot-soak of undiluted formaldehyde, and vicious attacks on elephants using elephant hooks and electric shock devices, one such incident by the circus’s own director of animal care. This last incident is supported by undercover video footage available on videotape or on-line at

Circus elephants are transported in semi trailers and train cars, chained by two legs when in transit from city to city. Travel from one booking to the next can be quite long, sometimes over 1,000 miles. Circus schedules document the time elephants spend confined and chained while en route. According to one circus’ advertisement, elephants remain in their train car for the duration of the move and are not allowed off chains or the opportunity to exercise until arriving at their destination. “Stock car stops are made during travel to feed and water the animals and to clean out their cars. The animals are unloaded from the train upon arrival.” USDA inspection reports show that circuses have been repeatedly cited for trailers in poor repair and lack of proper ventilation.

In addition to concerns about elephant welfare, performing elephants can pose a risk to public safety. The list of USDA citations includes incidents such as failure to have elephants under the supervision of a knowledgeable handler while children and adults were present, failure to maintain safety barriers between elephants and the public, allowing elephants infected with a human strain of tuberculosis to perform and give rides to children, and failure to complete required testing of elephants and elephant handlers for TB. There are also incidents of rampage where elephants have killed handlers and seriously injured bystanders.

Although only a partial list, these incidents illustrate three important things—circuses have not taken good care of elephants, they have exposed unnecessary risk to the public and they have not followed existing rules