Stop Circus Suffering

Nosey, and all animals, suffer in circuses

US Representatives take USDA to task over “long-term abuse” of Nosey the elephant

ADI commends US Reps Raul M. Grijalva, Blumenauer, Brownley, Clay, Cohen, Conyers, Delaney, DeSaulnier, Ellison, Farr, Gallego, Grayson, Hastings, Honda, Johnson, Kirkpatrick, Lee, Lewis, Lieu, McDermott, McSally, Nadler, Napolitano, Norton, Price, Rangel, Roybal-Allard, Schakowsky, Schiff, Takano, Tonko, & Vargas, for defending Nosey, a long-suffering, decrepit, circus elephant. Last Friday, the representatives took USDA to task, citing “insufficient” evaluations where Nosey continues to tour despite “long-term abuse,” “serious, willful, chronic violations,” and “repeated noncompliance” in veterinary care, handling, housing, and husbandry.

Grijalva’s announcement cites vet reports finding Nosey in an ‘expressionless, dazed stupor…and in a state of mental numbness or psychological deterioration.’

There is no humane existence for wild animals in circuses. Per the latest Gallup poll, >2/3 of Americans are troubled by the plight of circus animals.

It’s time to reintroduce The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act.

Support TEAPA, so the US can join the 31 other countries who have recognized the inherent suffering and safety issues, and banned the use of wild animals in circuses nationwide. TEAPA is a narrowly tailored, proportional response to address the inordinate suffering of wild animals in circuses; it will also save taxpayer resources, streamline regulation, and protect people.

There is substantial and growing evidence that even with the best intentions traveling shows simply cannot provide what these animals need and unfortunately, there is a good deal of evidence that physical abuse and deprivation are all too common. These are and will remain wild animals. Domestication cannot be trained into an individual animal; it takes certain genotypes and many generations of breeding an entire population of animals, and even then some species cannot be domesticated.  There is no conclusive evidence that wild animals habituate to travel and there’s no evidence that familiarity equates to security. Just this past June, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe issued their recommendation for a ban on wild animal circuses, agreeing that “there is by no means the possibility that their physiological, mental and social requirements can adequately be met” and noting “serious animal health and public health and safety risks,” as well as growing public opinion against this outdated industry.

Last year, an apparently well-regarded and experienced trainer was killed by an elephant while working in close physical contact. The trainer reportedly had a 30-year relationship with “his girls” – Opal and Rosie – two elephants in their forties who lived in the circus from the time they were taken from the wild in 1969 and 1970. His many years of experience training circus elephants, his later knowledge as a veterinarian working with elephants at the Bronx Zoo and as head elephant trainer at an Oregon safari park, and his reportedly close-knit bond and long-term relationship with Opal and Rosie were not enough to prevent his being crushed to death. Unfortunately, there are many reported incidents of worker deaths despite years working and familiarity with the animals. Opal and Rosie were also among those identified in a January 2015 inspection documenting inadequate veterinarian care, along with a pygmy hippo that died in 2014; another elephant identified in the report died a few months later in May 2015.

Traveling shows’ collapsible and temporary facilities raise serious public and worker safety and health concerns, and are not in keeping with the recommendations of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Workers and the public are often in close proximity to these wild animals with limited, if any, protective containment. Last year, the US Court of Appeals DC Circuit upheld a decision that an animal exhibitor employer violated the (general duty clause under the) Occupational Safety & Health Act by exposing animal trainers to recognized hazards despite the employer’s arguments its trainers were qualified, trained in safety procedures, and familiar with the mammal. (SeaWorld of Florida, LLC v. Perez, Secretary, US Dep’t of Labor, USCA Case number 12-1375 (2014).) In a similar case examining an employer’s general duties, OSHA settled with the Knoxville Zoo after the elephant trampling death of a trainer. OSHA also required the Knoxville Zoo replace its free contact management system with protective containment as part of the settlement agreement.  The Association of Zoos & Aquariums subsequently required its members to do the same; the AZA 2012 Lion Care Manual also strongly recommends against free contact with adult lions “under any circumstances.”

Circus workers typically have limited if any species-specific training (save perhaps that related to circus tricks), and the local venue operators/workers may have no knowledge of the animals’ needs or history. Parents purchasing tickets for their children to take photos with tigers or to ride on an elephant’s back have no way of knowing the animal’s history, training, escape risk, stressors, anxiety level, triggers, injury, illness, or aggression. ADI released video of one elephant’s aggression to another and to her trainers during rehearsal. This elephant was giving rides to children later the same week; she also escaped last year along with 2 other elephants (reportedly still wearing their ride saddles). The circus denied it, but ADI was able to produce USDA documents verifying that these three elephants returned again this year to perform at the very same venue from which they’d escaped a year earlier – despite repeated ADI reports to the various OSHA jurisdictions around the nation warning of the elephants’ past incidents of escape and aggression.

It is foolish to expect animals living under severe stress, confinement, and abuse will never lash out or try to escape.

Federal oversight is costly, problematic, and unmanageable. Nominal licensing fees don’t cover the costs; they are largely borne by taxpayersOversight is difficult with the limited number of inspectors and the events’ transitory nature. (In 2009, APHIS/USDA had just 97 inspectors who performed over 4300 inspections of more than 2700 exhibitors.) The Office of Inspector General’s 2010 audit reports on APHIS note numerous inspector deficiencies including limited to no follow-up to noncompliance citations and failure to consult animal experts to determine if enclosures or barriers are sufficient to protect the public. Nosey’s handler has been the subject of numerous complaints citing Animal Welfare Act violations, including this 2013 USDA petition.

OSHA inspections generally rely upon self-reporting alone and often by the time a complaint or inspection request is made, the circus has moved on to another jurisdiction. It is not uncommon for the agencies to report their hands are tied once the circus leaves town. Regional, state, and local agencies don’t typically have the benefit of cross-jurisdictional communications or authority; not knowing the history of a particular circus or its animals leaves little context to frame a one-time likely expected look-see. All too often local authorities lacking familiarity or facilities to deal with exotic species defer upstream to federal agencies who nevertheless maintain public safety is not their mandate.  For all practical purposes, no one is looking at public safety. When things do go awry, it’s the local first responders who are surprised to find that they are the ones left holding the bag. 

“I have never seen a situation as frightening – or one I was less capable of controlling – than that day the elephant ran wild. The greatest shock to me as a police officer was when I discovered that the owner and trainer … had absolutely no control over her …. He had no plan for such an emergency and his only strategy was to keep yelling at me to shoot her. I have discovered that, once an elephant goes out of control, nothing can be done.  It is not a predictable or preventable accident. The only thing that can be done – and even this is a danger to the public – is to get a battery of police officers in with heavy weapons and gun the elephant down.”

Florida police officer Blayne Doyle, testifying before Congress

Thirty-one nations and sixty local US jurisdictions (in 23 states) have instituted some form of ban or restriction on wild animals in circuses.

Banning the use of wild animals does not have to mean the end of the circus. There are more than 20 human-performance circuses in the US, including some who were once animal exhibitors. See also Forbes Magazine, The Richest People in America 2014 and The Wall Street Journal, Power Clown (2005) which quote major players in US circuses describing diversification away from “traditional” acts and identifying the primary economic driver in today’s circus as being the celebrity clown or “power clown” – not the animals. Ringling/ Barnum & Bailey just announced it will retire its traveling elephants by 2018 in response to changing public opinion, concern over the treatment of the elephants, and increasing local ordinances restricting wild animal acts. Recently as well, James Hamid (of Hamid Circus, the oldest single-family operated US circus) was quoted saying:

“Circuses must keep up with the modern audience. … As we look into the future, we see all circuses moving to non-animal productions. Over the last 20 years … changing public sentiment, performing animal acts have begun to be a thing of the past. So it’s up to creative minds to conceive new and entertaining all-human performances …”  

Perhaps the most familiar human-performance circus to you may be Cirque du Soleil, which had its first show in 1990, and has now grown to a >$800 million enterprise, appearing 8 times in the top ranking international tours alongside such names as Madonna and Lady Gaga. Unlike the noted decline in animal circus attendance, these human-performance shows are proliferating worldwide. Human-performance circuses are popular; they require labor, create jobs, and can bring dollars to your area without exposing citizens to chronically stressed and abused animals.

The ADI Stop Circus Suffering and Federal Circus Bill websites include further briefings on the numerous animal welfare, worker safety, public health & safety, regulatory oversight, and economic issues associated with keeping wild animals in traveling performances. You will also find information there on the increasing numbers and success of human-performance circuses.

Act now for Nosey, and for all animals still suffering in US circuses: Contact your Representative / Contact your Senator today

Other ways you can get involved


  1. Lavinia Lewis · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    No animal deserves to suffer for humans to be entertained. This practice has to stop for the sake of Nosey and all the other animals which are at present stuck in this vicious cycle of abuse.

  2. donna matranga · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    Please help these beautiful animals set them free to live out the rest of their lives please

  3. Carole Spencer · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    Please sign to End the neglect and cruelty, abuse with wild Animals in circus acts.

  4. joii resnick · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    omg please let her life rest in a nice peaceful place, what if this was your mother, father or kid please please

  5. Rowena Ollis · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    This sort of ‘entertainment’ is animal abuse and should have been stopped years ago … DO IT NOW, PLEASE.

  6. Leda Tilton · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    Please ban wild animals from live entertainment. Use and abuse of these most sentient creatures must cease immediately

  7. Janet Madison · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    “Deliver her from evil.”

  8. Autrey king · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    It is way past time to stop using animals in circuses. One only has to look to see the animals are suffering.. Please, please let Nosey be free before she dies. She and all the other animals in circuses are slaves and they are treated horrible. Please find your heart and pass a law to forbid circuses from having wild animals in any form.

  9. Kristen Ford · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    please stop torturing these beautiful animals….

  10. Pat Hofer · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    Please stop using elephants in circus acts…it is not normal behavior for them….cruel treatment sad.

  11. Leigh-Lin Kjeldsen · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    Have some decency and humanity. These animals were never yours to purchase and then make dirty money for you. I fear you hold no ethics in your value and teach nothing of the sort to your family

  12. Noel Luna · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    It’s sad to think we as humans still allow such suffering to go on…

  13. Terry Carman · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    Poor Nosey and other beautiful animals like her.. Have endured enough pain, misery, loneliness, confinement and punishment..In this day and age, no animal should be taken from the wild, or born into captivity and forced to perform for “entertainment”.. It’s abusive and outdated..Please allow Nosey to live out her years in a sanctuary. With no chains or bulll hook. Room to roam and other elephants by her side.. No animal deserves to live the miserable live she has lived.. Thank you..

  14. Kathleen DelCorpo · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    We need to get these animals to a sanctuary where they will be forever free of cruelty and abuse

  15. glynis kinney · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    NO ANIMALS should be in the circus, Have heard of the cruelty for years. That’s NO LIFE for them. Remove ALL animals from circuses, put them out in open spaces where they can enjoy life. Let’s Take Care of The Animals for a Change.

  16. marion blumenfeld · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    It.s unforgivable the abuse nosry is duffering..after having been seen by somr vrts who declared nosey to be in a nimb stste..depressded..full of pain..being tortured..
    pls show humanity and set nosey free..let her live the rest of her life in peace and free.

  17. Mary de Beuno Austin · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    Please free Nosey now. We have signed many petitions to free her and other circus animals

  18. Laura Lawrence · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    Nosey is unstable on her feet is it going to take her falling on children as they ride on her poor old back to end her suffering? Why is this elephant being left with her abusive sadistic owner?

  19. Betty Holden · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    Thank you ADI for all that you are doing to help animals like Nosey who are trapped in the captivity of the entertainment industry. Hopefully, the laws will change soon that will make the horrible, abusive lifestyle inflicted on these amazing, beautiful creatures a thing of the past. I hope that one day very soon Nosey will be free to be with other elephants in a sanctuary. This article speaks very well to the plight that they are enduring…I’m hoping that all who read articles such as this one will become moved enough to write to their representatives in Congress and get involved in the quest to see these majestic animals rescued from this hellish existence. Thanks again for helping these precious animals.

  20. Lindy · 5 August 2015 at 3:53a

    Shocking the government continues to allow this open abuse.

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