California Protests Heat Up as Ringling Brothers Tours [Graphic Video]


Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus has kicked off its summer touring season in San Diego this weekend amid rampant protests. Animal rights groups coordinate year-round to make sure there is representation at each performance, but the summer dates seem to be the most important, garnering the most press. California appears to be the biggest battleground for protests against the Ringling Brothers Tours, with the controversy heating up as activists aim to expose what they say is the truth about the circus’ animal training practices.

In recent years, videos have surfaced exposing the treatment of performing animals in circuses such as Ringling Brothers, and public outrage has followed suit. A back-and-forth legal battle between the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Feld Entertainment, Ringling’s holding company has been raging since 2000. The ASPCA sued Feld Entertainment in that year, charging the company with mistreatment of their performing elephants and referring to The Endangered Species and Animal Welfare acts to plead its case.

In the meantime, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other activist groups sent operatives to work at Ringling Brothers and record the treatment specifically of the performing elephants during training. While the legal cases remained open for many years, public opinion was heavily influenced by these videos. A particularly graphic video surfaced in 2009, showing elephants being beaten with bullhooks and baby elephants forced into performing positions while restrained by ropes and trainers. Warning – the video below is graphic may not be suitable for sensitive viewers.

This video gave rise to another lawsuit from the ASPCA, which was dismissed under a gag order from Feld’s lawyers, which forced the court not to use testimony from former employees of the company.

In addition to the lawsuits brought against Ringling Brothers, the USDA also inspected the circus’ training grounds and issued fines in 2011 of up to $270,000. Allegedly, the largest of such fines in United States history, the USDA also cited the Animal Welfare Act in its findings.

In November of 2012, Feld Entertainment/Ringling Brothers won their countersuit against the ASPCA for malicious prosecution, and the court awarded the 107-year-old company $9.3 million. In the 14 years since the first lawsuit, however, public opinion of Ringling Brothers and circuses, which use live performing animals, seems to have been irreparably damaged, and activist groups are not slowing down in their protest efforts.

During the 16 years in which the ASPCA, PETA, the USDA and Ringling Brothers have been arguing over the company’s treatment of its performing animals, there has been a shift in circus culture in general. Canadian performance troupe Cirque du Soleil was the first circus act, which only used human performers to gain worldwide notoriety. Since then a number of similar shows have cropped up in the mainstream, and many notable circuses which had previously used animals, such as Circus Vargas, made the decision to remove performing animals from their shows. What’s more, circuses with live animals have been banned outright in England and other EU countries.

As the culture of and attitude towards traveling entertainment has changed, many wonder if Ringling Brothers and shows like it will lose the battle to keep animals in traveling performance shows. Animal advocate groups certainly hope this will be the case, as the protests against Ringling Brothers heat up in California for the summer touring season. The opening shows in San Diego from Aug. 6-10 saw record protester turnouts, while attendance to the actual shows seemed to dwindle, according to protest organizer Ellen Ericksen. Ericksen is a California-based independent organizer who is affiliated with numerous animal rights groups. helps coordinate protests at each of the stops on the Ringling tour, linking organizers like Ericksen with information, materials and eager protesters to fill out the line. Efforts are also coordinated through Facebook events and groups such as Occupy Ringling Brothers. Through these large networks, Ringling and Feld Entertainment can be sure the protesters will be there on their subsequent stops in the Bay Area, Sacramento and Bakersfield this summer.

Since the decisions on the Ringling Brothers/Feld Entertainment lawsuits in 2012, the goal of protesters has shifted. While the ASPCA and PETA may continue to fight the circus giant in court, groups like and Occupy Ringling Brothers prefer a more grassroots approach, trying to make themselves a visible presence at each stop along Ringling’s way. Protesters also try to get as much information about Ringling Brothers into the hands of the public during the California tour so they can turn up the heat on the company and possibly change a few minds about the circus. In the meantime, it looks like both sides are digging their heels in on this issue. However,  because of protesters and a general shift in public perception, the days of performing animals in circuses may be numbered.

By Layla Klamt

PRC News
Feld Entertainment Information Center

11 Responses to "California Protests Heat Up as Ringling Brothers Tours [Graphic Video]"

  1. Chrystal Ivy   March 19, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    So, does this mean you have to see the elephants with scars or bleeding before anyone can do something about it? I went to many a circus when I was young, I was amazed how talented the elephants were. Little did I know they were being abused. This makes me very sad. I tell my family & friends to not buy ivory because of the abuse. This is very inhuman how the animals are treated. My grand children will never attend a circus. Shame, shame on you people that do this to them!!!!!

  2. Joanne Marsh   August 28, 2014 at 4:27 am

    I do not support anything that requires breaking an animal for our entertainment. You can train certain animals to perform and they LOVE it. For instance, some breeds of dogs enjoy working. Elephants and 99% of the animals USED in circuses belong in the wild!

  3. Cj Ellie   August 14, 2014 at 4:40 am

    Science has proven that elephants are extremely intelligent beings. They share all human emotions, life expectancy and family structures. They are mirror species of humans. Would we beat a child to make them perform and entertain us? Would we keep innocent humans chained and imprisoned to profit us? Would we allow 2 year old children to be snatched from their mother and put into servitude? If it is not okay to do it to a human it is not okay to do it to elephants.

  4. Michael Haberland   August 13, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    What an extremely biased anti circus article! It’s a shame that the author only quoted animal rights terrorists and their cult groups and didn’t take a single second to actually contact anyone in the circus for a fair balanced article! Another glaring example of the author’s bias is the omission of the largest settlement of over 15 MILLION DOLLARS that was paid to Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus by the radical animal rights terrorist group Humane Society of the United States. The total amount won by Ringling in their RICO lawsuit was over 25 MILLION DOLLARS! The author even fails to mention or even learn about the 2 government sponsored scientific studies done in the UK that finds and states that circuses are NOT inhumane or cruel for animals. Here in the US Dr. Ted Friend respected animal behaviorist at Texas A&M has had peer review studies published over the past decade also stating that circus animals are physically and mentally stimulated and healthy. The public has woke up to the true agenda of animal rights and they’re turning away from those groups in droves. If you have questions about circus animals visit the show, question the trainers and see with your own eyes the truth.

    • Cj Ellie   August 17, 2014 at 5:28 am

      Your statement is misleading. The truth….The monies awarded Feld were for attorney fees not a judgment. In fact Judge Sullivan states in his decision to award attorney’s fees to Feld, “FEI did not win this case based on any findings regarding the treatment of its elephants. Rather, the court never reached that issue because it found that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue.”

      “A nonhuman is, in fact, so invisible in a court of law that the only way such a creature can seek redress is if the human plaintiffs representing that animal can prove that the injury done to it has in some way injured them.” – Steven Wise
      This is how Ringling is able to get animal cruelty charges dismissed in court.

  5. Ruby   August 12, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    WHOA… I HAVE to work for food!! I have to work to have a place to live. I have to work/perform tricks for someone else so I can have a roof over my head… IF humans have to work to provide for themselves HOW is it wrong for animals to work?
    So now animals are running the show??

    I think the people that are trying to force “personhood” on animals are just perverts that want to be allowed to “marry” their animal “partners”… I’ve seen that craziness online. They say they are not abusive. They say they LOVE their animals – it is just a different kind of love… YEAH that’s what all the child molesters say & what M.Vick said about his dogs too!! Ewwww I can see no other reason WHY they are SO determined to MAKE everyone else see humans and animals as being equal.

  6. animalandpeoplelover   August 12, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Quit anthropomorphizing! An elephant could care less about cursing, and the “whips” and bull hooks get the elephants’ attention (because of loud noise, etc.), but don’t hurt them. The scenes that look like a lion or tiger act are in a foreign language, so doubtful that it’s Ringling or in the U.S. If PeTA will mish-mash together stuff that isn’t even cruelty in actuality—-and isn’t current, or in the U.S., that should tell you that PeTA has NO CREDIBILITY AT ALL. Even they couldn’t find something truly objectionable! A European court found PeTA GUILTY of paying people to skin raccoon dogs alive in order to film it and claim that’s what fur harvesters do routinely. That’s shameful, immoral, *animal cruelty*. What *rational* person believes PeTA any more???

  7. Pat Cuviello   August 11, 2014 at 11:48 am

    I have been protesting Ringling for over 20 years and, yes, their attendance numbers are dwindling. And within those attendance numbers many of the patrons tell us they received free tickets. If Alexis Kaiser’s figure of 10 million customers is accurate then Ringling’s attendance has dropped 2 million in the last couple of years when Ringling claimed their circus attendance was 12 million a year. Regardless, there are 300 million Americans and if 10 or 12 million are attending Ringling that means only approximately 3% of Americans support Ringling. Ringling is dying and their attendance numbers establish that Americans really don’t care to attend Ringling’s animal abusing circus. It is just a matter of time before Ringling will only exist in the history books, unless the owners decide to finally join the 21st century and retire the animal acts.

  8. Dyan Kane   August 10, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Say what you will, no protester or animal rights advocate is as horrid, inhumane, and disgusting as any circus employee, directly or indirectly involved with circus animals. All Ringling employees are complicit in animal abuse, period. No animal big or small should be held and transported in captivity for 52 weeks of every year, treated like slaves, and forced to perform tricks for humans who pay to see them, or companies that profit. No protester is paid to spend years educating the public about behind the scenes methods used to force these satient, majestic creatures to debase themselves for human greed and profit. SHAME ON ANYONE WHO DEFENDS FELD OR ANY ORGANIZATION WHERE ANIMALS ARE FORCED TO DO TRICKS FOR FOOD. WHO DO THOSE HUMANS THINK THEY ARE???

  9. Barbara Trask Lovett   August 10, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    So glad to hear that Ringling is still being called out for their abuse and lies. No elephant belongs in a circus. Thanks to one and all who stand up for the voiceless!

  10. Alexis Kaiser   August 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    The author should have researched her story. RBBB had 10 mil customers a year. Hardly a dwindling audience. The light is being shed on these so called animal right groups. Peta kills 20000 adoptable animals a year, the ALF is on the fbi”s domestic terrorist list, many of these groups not for profit statuses are being investigated. Finally these groups are being defined ad nothing but cults. So, I do believe RBbB will always be the Golf standard of the circus world, animals and all


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