Practical Issues > Animals for Entertainment > Circuses
Ringling Employees Tell of Bloody Beatings, Routine Abuse

Two former Ringling employees have contacted PETA independently with allegations of routine abuse in the circus, including bloody beatings and a culture in which employees who object to animals' cruel treatment are either ignored or punished. Still haunted by what she witnessed, Archele Hundley quit Ringling's red unit in June 2006 after just two months, and Bob Tom, who worked on the same unit for two years, was fired in August 2006, allegedly for complaining about the beatings.

Elephants Live in Fear of Beatings

Both Hundley and Tom worked on the animal crew and tell PETA that they witnessed a violent beating of an elephant that lasted at least 30 minutes when Ringling had a layover at the fairgrounds in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When an elephant refused a command to lie down, Ringling's head elephant trainer, Sacha Houcke, allegedly beat the elephant with a bullhook, hooking her behind the ear, on the leg, and on the back. At one point, he reportedly inserted the hook inside the elephant's ear canal and pulled on the handle using both hands and the full force of his body weight. The elephant cried out in agony and was left bleeding profusely from severe wounds.

The following were among the whistleblowers' declarations to PETA:

Elephants are so terrified of the trainers that they begin urinating, defecating, and trumpeting in fear at the sound of their voices.

Elephants are aggressively hooked on a daily basis, and handlers rub dirt into bloody bullhook wounds to conceal them from the public.

Elephants suffering from arthritis are kept on the road.

Elephants are only unchained when the public is around.

Some employees were outraged at Sacha Houcke's recklessness when he brought Luna and another elephant perilously close to a PETA staffer and assaulted him in Oklahoma City. Luna is extremely dangerous and unpredictable. She has attacked handlers and frequently shows aggression toward people, and employees are regularly warned not to go near her.

The circus knows in advance when U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors are coming for what are supposed to be unannounced inspections.

Horses Beaten and Whipped

Horses are one of the most commonly used animals in circuses, but they receive the least protection, as they are not covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Hundley and Tom reported severe alleged abuse of horses, including the following:

Horses are grabbed by the throat and shoved, jabbed with pitchforks, and given "lip twists," a sadistic way to inflict pain on one of the most sensitive areas of a horse's body.

Most of Ringling's horses are head-shy from being punched in the face so many times. If you try to pet them, they jerk their heads away because they fear being hit.

A handler allegedly tethered a horse named Sonny and whipped the horse with the metal snap of the lead for 10 minutes. The horse was later found to have a broken tooth.

A miniature horse got loose and was repeatedly punched on the back and sides when he was recaptured.

Sacha Houcke allegedly slugged a shrieking miniature horse named Gunther in the face twice with such force that it would have knocked down a full-grown person. The sound of his fist, which could be heard 20 feet away, knocked the horse senseless.

A horse named Mizean had cuts across his sides and back from being viciously whipped.

Miserable Transport Conditions

The former circus employees further report that during transit, elephants are packed inside boxcars so tightly that they are unable to turn around or lie down. On three- and four-day trips, animals are let off the train for exercise only once. Most of the time, they are forced to stand in mountains of foul-smelling feces and urine that fill up to two Dumpsters. Hundley says that the stench inside the boxcars is so bad that it causes people's eyes to water and their noses to burn.

Some elephants scrape their backs when they are loaded and unloaded from the trains because the openings in the boxcars are not large enough.

Tom described an incident in Fairfax, Virginia, where two horses suffered heatstroke after they were left in stifling boxcars for almost 12 hours in near 100-degree F heat.

Whistleblowers Threatened, While Abusers Go Unpunished
The whistleblowers contend that Ringling falsifies personnel performance reports for employees who quit in disgust or are fired after complaining about the systematic abuse of animals so that the phony records can be used to discredit anyone who goes public with what he or she witnessed.

Employees are warned not to show affection toward animals. And Ringling management tells employees who complain about the beatings, "If you don't like it, pack your bags," and even threatens them with legal action if they report abuse to advocacy groups.

Instead of firing employees who mistreat animals, circus management simply cautions handlers not to discipline animals in view of the public.

You Can Help Change This:

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