April 12th, 2013 by Deborah Robinson
An elephant used in the circus industry made national headlines this week after someone shot her outside a Ringling circus show in Tupelo, Mississippi on April 9. Carol, one of three elephants used in Ringling’s Gold show, was hit in the neck by a bullet fired at her in the concrete parking lot where the elephants were spending the night.
IDA is horrified by this shooting and gravely concerned for Carol’s welfare and for the trauma that she endured. But one main point is missing in all the coverage on this tragic incident: elephants used in circuses are grievously harmed every day of their lives. Circuses routinely rip elephants from family groups, train and manage elephants through violence and domination, and confine and deprive elephants of everything that is natural to them. A bullet in the neck is just a slight variation on Carol’s everyday suffering.
Ringling is using this shooting for its own benefit, spinning it as an egregious act by an unknown criminal meant to harm an endangered elephant, and contributing a generous reward to highlight its concern. The shooting was indeed egregious, but Ringling’s hypocrisy in all of this is laughable considering that the circus has built a business in which animal abuse is inherent. In 2011, the USDA slapped Ringling with a record fine of $270,000 after filing charges for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including endangering animals and the public by failing to safely handle an elephant who broke away from her handlers and forcing a sick elephant to perform.
Equally disturbing is the fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regularly ignores its mandate to protect endangered elephants from harm suffered within the circus industry, but is all over the news condemning this one act of violence as a violation of the Endangered Species Act. And the media, which routinely publishes circus fluff pieces, can’t get enough of the drama of this shooting.
Carol, like all elephants used in circuses, has led a miserable life. Carol was snatched from the wild somewhere in Asia in 1974 and shipped to the Hanneford Family Circus. Since then, she’s been dragged around the country, forced to perform in a variety of circuses. In 1990, Carol reportedly killed a longtime circus worker. The circus has held that she was “startled” and “fell on” him, crushing him. Nonetheless, the Hannefords used Carol to give rides until they were hired by Ringling to travel with its Gold unit.
Carol’s injury is, according to the circus, not severe and she is expected to fully recover and be back on the road within two months. For now, she is being held near Springfield, Missouri, with bullet fragments still lodged in her neck. The bullet fragments did not prevent a handler from making her perform for the Today Show cameras. You can also see in this clip one of the Ringling elephant handlers attempting to hide a bullhook behind a bag of fruit.
We’re told that local and federal law enforcement officials are investigating the shooting. A reward for information leading to the identification of the shooter is now more than $30,000. If found, the shooter will face federal charges for harming an endangered Asian elephant, as well as local charges. While we continue to follow this story, we urge everyone, including the media, to remember that while this shooting incident is unique, suffering is a fact of life for elephants in circuses. Her neck will heal, but the abuse that Carol endures on a daily basis will continue as long she is used by Ringling or any other circus.