Everyone has memories of going to a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show: your mother screaming at you for eating too much cotton candy, the flashing strobes of blue and red, and telling your 8 year old self that the circus life was always another option if all else fails. But behind all the tricks and glitz is a world far from what the circus portrays on stage. A major part of the show is the animal portion wherein elephants, camels, tigers, and other animals are put on display.
Many don’t know what these animals have to endure backstage. Whips and hooks are used by trainers to “tame” the elephants. They dig into the sensitive skins which causes infections and scars. Along with the physical abuse these animals have to go through, they are also pushed to the brink of mental insanity. Isolating them by themselves for long periods of time has made some of them go mad. One case of this is an elephant named Tonka. She was so abused both mentally and physically that she has developed stereotypical behaviors: Tonka sways back and forth, bobs her head, and kicks her right foot. These animals usually die during their show life from infections, diseases, and sheer ignorance when dealing with them. Other cases include Mike, a 2- year old elephant who died from endotheliotropic herpesvirus. One 8- month old elephant’s legs were shattered by a circus trainer holding a bullhook. Circuses may project a facade of fun and happiness but it is anything but for the animals that are tortured and eventually die.