Worst Show On Earth: Ringling Bros. Accused of Elephant Abuse Based on Undercover Video

800px-Ringling_poster_1898_editedA new videotape (below) has emerged of alleged abuse by a circus of elephants. This video by an undercover PETA activist shows Ringling Bros. employees beating elephants in ‘The Greatest Shows on Earth.” We have previously followed such lawsuits against the circuses, here.

The PETA activist used a hidden camera to take the video, which could raise some interesting legal issues not just for the circus but PETA itself.

The spokesman for Feld Entertainment (with the fortunate name of Payne), insisted that “PETA is an animal rights extremist group.”

Ringling was accused of elephant abuse by a former employee Tom Rider in 2003 and, in 1998, agreed to donate $20,000 to elephant-care groups to settle a case involving the death of a 3-year-old elephant in Jacksonville, Florida.

The use of such undercover agents creates a legal risk for PETA. In Food Lion v. ABC , a store was shown in an undercover segment engaging in unsanitary techniques and accused Food Lion of selling rat-gnawed cheese, meat that was past its expiration date and old fish and ham that had been washed in bleach to kill the smell. Food lion denied the allegations and sued ABC for trespass. A jury ruled against ABC and awarded Food Lion punitive damages for the investigation involving ABC journalists lying on their application forms and assumed positions under false pretenses. (here). The Fourth Circuit however wiped out the punitive damage award while upholding the verdicts of trespass and breach of loyalty with awards of only $1 for each. Ringling may seek to sue PETA not just for PETA but product disparagement and other tort-related claims. It could seek to expand on the Food Lion case.

In the meantime, PETA is filing against Ringling with federal and state authorities.

For the full story, click here.

47 thoughts on “Worst Show On Earth: Ringling Bros. Accused of Elephant Abuse Based on Undercover Video”

  1. “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he was a mime.” – Keyser Söze

  2. I am having trouble deciding which is the untamed beast in this video.

  3. I am a contrarian (sp) with respect to the circus. I think that Feld Enterprises has the best record of all activities of this type. It is an art form that I love and have shown my children as well.

    PETA is a self serving organization that accosted me and my family while we were walking up to the show. This was done afterwords as well. I was more angry with the approach of these people than any thing that was alleged to have been done wrong by the circus people.

    I won’t put this in the same class as Abortion or to not. But it is damn close. I will be going the last day of this month and I will more than likely enjoy myself. It is my art form of entertainment. Should Rubens be painted over because they show body parts? Should Lady Justice be covered up because she is nude? Thank you.

  4. Clowns made a friend of mine in Japan “hit the wall”.

    Nick from New Zealand. Nick had been working in a terrible factory. Almost as bad as mine… And every day taking 1-2 hours to wash the oil off his hands, he was getting really freaky. Our apartment was small… no avoiding the facts on that one. No TV, one cassette of Phillipino Top 10 scree to soothe us. and the cargo trains barreling past our apartment with the adjacent track about 3 feet away (really!) 24/7. So after a few days holiday sitting in the box in our bunk beds, I put my endlessly fascinating hobby of incessant coin jingling aside and gave him the “Man’s Speech”. Full of “pull yourself togethers” and other helpful hints, I suggested we do as normal people (biofeedback) and exit the building adorned in clothing.

    He reluctantly agreed but by and by we were ambling through the streets (’twas a public holiday) and his jitters left him like last night’s “couche mal”. It was a sunny day (much like today) and the cherry blossoms where out. Soon he feeling really peppy and laughing without a care in the world. Expansive swagger writ large. I stared at all this rather darkly and felt it a little forced, wondering how much more coin jingling could he really take, when we came across a local calumnity of pedestrians whereby he strained to see over the largish crowd to spy some street performer. A harlequin, or “white face “clown oddity no less.

    “uh.. no let’s get on, eh?” sez I detesting clowns. Especially gaijin clowns in Japan.
    “Naaahh..” sez Nick “It’ll be fun…” like the country stick of rube he was..
    “er.. look” sez I, now seething..”Clowns disturb me. I don’t find them fun.. I find them freaky! I find drinks fun. Now let’s beat it! Bar’s THIS way..” all said in low, clenched murmur with grated teeth, frozen face and to wit; I’m kinda leaning backwards at a slope with my back firmly facing the clown. Nick needlessly senses this is HIS moment and suddenly goes “bravura” on me..
    “Ahh c’mon, don’t be afraid of the clown, hidflect!” he now good-naturedly mocked me, moments before his life ended as he knew it…
    “OK – he doesn’t scare me. I just seek a better experience than freaky, man.. I’m warning you.. He doesn not resemble a barman. And that’s my expertise, so…” (I’m very flip in a tight situation…)
    “hidflect’s afraid of the Clown!” he guffawed ( with no malice, I must say. He was a simple, jesty sort of bumpkin…)
    “Whatever! Now lets amble on like gentlemen.. Drinks ahoy..” I ever-grittily sidelined in voice, spirit and motion.

    But this Nick was not for the turning, and he waded in, proud, head-high, grinning through the crowd to get up nice and close and have some good ol’ Fun. And the clown (who really was an athletic, sinister, black and white bastard) was heedless, facing 3/4 away immersed in some small interaction with the local, good peasantry, seemingly oblivious, when suddenly he froze like a brick… My hackles electrically rose to maximum flaps for take-off but Nick continued to look on, head held high, his big grin and broken nose (rugby – don’t ask) now seeming a little bemused… Oh boy.

    It was like a badly directed horror film. Everybody but the Rube knows what’s coming up..I had never slunk higher than midget height the whole time but could catch glimpses of our ponchinello in non-motion and it didn’t look good. The crowd sorta fell silent (lack of inputs to their brains) and “The Fall” started with a deliberate and slow frozen-man style turn towards Nick, eyes slowly swivelling to a lock on Nick’s eyes, stopping for a beat or two as he stared him full in the face and then slowly started to lift his arm and point at Nick. Now about 50 people where staring at Nick and he asided to me: “er.. maybe your right hidflect, we should get on, eh.?” as he starts plucking at the crowd while backing up. “See??” I seethed. “Lessgo! Drinks on me”

    But the herd weren’t making way enough. It was jammed like a commuter train and Nick made a fatal flaw and began acting like prey… backing up with alacrity. And with giant, freakish moves, our newly-discovered nemesis gradually starts this slo-mo crawl towards Nick ( I must say, he did it brilliantly: very very slow and then getting faster, gaining momentum like the monster behind you in your dreams when your stuck fast.) Only Nick WAS stuck fast, but that was mostly just terror hahaaa. The crowd had gotten creeped out too and fell away like the good sheeple they were. Then another moment and Nick’s movements started to look unseemly, jostling and shoving backwards through and over people like it was War Of The Worlds, and lo! ’twas but a moment before “flight” became our best response of the day and we broke and fled in accordance with tradition, myself keeping up having been badly spooked enough to shout “Run, man!!” just as nameless terror gripped me and we exited stage left.

    Athletically but implacably sinister, unreasoningly relentless, he chased us for about 2 blocks in silence, white face, black diamond eyes never changing from impassive and the lips never parting to pant. We finally “got away” and Nick was babbling, “You’re right.. (pant puff) never.. clowns.. fck!” (more huffing..)
    He never stopped babbling or started making sense until the end and all said and done, he didn’t last the week. I got home one day and he’d left not even claiming wages he was owed.

  5. I have always disagreed with the logic used by the majority in Food Lion v. ABC. I find no duty owed to an employer to protect it from fraudulent or harmful activities that abuse the public. Call it a public policy exception to the duty of loyalty, or more properly a corollary of the equitable doctrine that one who seeks equity must do equity, and in doing so, must operate with clean hands. I think this to be a Fourth Circuit aberration, hopefully to be remedied by the extraordinary number of vacancies that Obama may elect to fill on the Court.

  6. Mike,

    Never said it wasn’t, just said it wasn’t necessary to being a rock star. Think Punk.

  7. Gyges,
    I sing so badly that even my kids couldn’t stand to listen to me. Funny thing was I thought I could sing until the first time I heard my recorded voice. I can discriminate very well musically and understand what’s good, bad, and/or mediocre. Can’t translate that into action. Took guitar lessons, took piano lessons and it wasn’t a matter of not practicing, I was just flat out bad. Love your gift, because it really is one.

  8. Mike,

    You don’t have to be all that talented to be a rock star. You could be angry.

  9. “As a clown-loather it was, well, it was torture, I tell you.”

    As a kindred clown hater what got me was that never liking them was always something that I thought was wrong with me, until others started talking to me of their hatred. Then I realized the problem wasn’t me, those like me, or even clown lovers…..it was the clowns themselves. They are sadists masquerading as entertainers and inflicting themselves on people. You show me a person who rides a unicycle and I’ll show you a born sadist.

  10. “Never underestimate the ability of musicians to dredge up factiods to impress strangers.”

    I’m always impressed by your factoids and envy you your musical ability. I coulda been a rock star if I could sing on tune, or learn to finger the guitar chords. A failure in both and at such a young age.

  11. Hid,

    Never underestimate the ability of musicians to dredge up factiods to impress strangers.

  12. Oh great! You saved me. No really. I’ve been hunting all over Google for the source of this and you won’t believe how many pages on clowns I’ve had to trawl over to no avail. As a clown-loather it was, well, it was torture, I tell you.

  13. Hidfleck,

    Almost forgot my favorite clown… Petrushka. He was a Russian equivalent to Punch, a puppet that was sort of the comedic side of the Trickster archetype. The Stravinski Ballet (about a Petrushka puppet coming to life) is my favorite of his three ballets.


    That’s your music history lesson for the month.

  14. Hidflect,

    You’re thinking of Commedia dell’arte. The famous opera Pagliacci takes place before and during a performance by a Commedia dell’arte troup.

    Not the most famous song from the opera, but it shows Canio and Nedda in their costumes in the Commedia dell’arte.

  15. Yeah clowns. Don’t get me (and everyone else) started! I read somewhere (long ago) that there are 6 unique clown characters from Italian history. One of them is actually a couple. Each of them signifies or personifies a particular tragedy of character and it’s really quite a deep philosophical representation on universal truths in human nature. Somewhere along the line the whole thing got bastardised down to the fool Ponchinello and his flappy shoes. And then further down to serial killing clowns like John Wayne Gacy…


    Cirque Du Soleil show how the big top can survive. THAT’S entertainment and art and a noble, skilled profession.

  16. I had a beloved, childless Uncle an Aunt who insisted on taking me to Ringling Brothers Circus at Madison Square Garden, when I was 8, 9 and 10. I loathed it and especially hated the part before the show started where you got to see the animals and the freak show. They loved me and were good to me and so I had to pretend to enjoy myself, when in fact I couldn’t wait for the whole thing to be over. Circuses, like clowns are in truth scary and sadistic. I’m not surprised at the animal abuse, even though I’m scarcely a fan of PETA.

  17. I can’t bring myself to watch the video, so I can’t comment on this case but animal circuses are an anachronism like gladiator fighting. It’s time to ban them. I don’t want to hear any more stories about carnies beating their livestock.

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