Animals in the circus live miserable lives of deprivation, confinement and abuse.

In the circus, virtually all of animal's natural behaviors are thwarted.

Elephants, tigers, bears and other animals in the circus suffer from constant travel, abusive training, and social isolation.

  ARFF investigation exposes circus cruelty (click here to watch behind-the-scenes video)

A Life in Chains
Most circuses are on the road for weeks at a time. While traveling, elephants are kept chained in trucks or railroad cars. Tigers, bears and monkeys in the circus are transported in barren, cramped cages. These animals are forced to eat, drink, urinate and defecate within their enclosures.

In 2004, a lion with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus died while traveling through the intense heat of the Mojave Desert in a poorly ventilated boxcar.

Often, the brief performances are the only time animals in the circus are allowed out of their cages or freed from their chains.

Elephants suffer from captivity-induced health problems, such as arthritis and other chronic foot and joint problems— conditions linked to prolonged chaining and lack of proper exercise.

It is not unusual to see animals in the circus displaying neurotic, repetitive behaviors— such as swaying back and forth, head-bobbing or cage pacing— brought on by the monotony of confinement.


Physical Abuse
Violent, physical abuse remains a common method of training and controlling elephants and other animals in the circus. In 2002, elephant trainer Tim Frisco was filmed by an undercover investigator attacking, screaming obscenities at and electro-shocking elephants (in 2012, Frisco traveled in Florida with the Cole Bros. Circus). Animals perform under threat of punishment.

The circus requires animals to perform unnatural tricks on demand, regardless of whether the animal is tired or feeling sick. In 1998 in Jacksonville, Ringling Bros. forced a young elephant to perform in two shows, despite the elephant's obvious signs of illness. Sadly, the elephant (3-year-old "Kenny") died shortly after the performances.

The bullhook, or ankus, is a sharp, pointed hook used to control elephants. Elephants are jabbed in sensitive areas, such as behind the ear, or on their legs, to discourage undesired behavior or to make an elephant move in a particular direction.


Commercial Exploitation of Endangered Species
Most of the elephants in circuses were captured from their natural habitats, in Africa or Asia, in the 1960s and 70s, before they were declared Endangered Species.

Elephants are highly intelligent animals who have complex social relationships.

In the wild, young elephants nurse for several years. Female elephants stay with their mothers and with their family group for their entire lives.

Elephants born into the circus have a dismal future.
In the circus, baby elephants are forcibly removed from their mothers and trained to perform when they should still be nursing. In 1999, during an inspection of Ringling's breeding farm in Polk City, Florida, the USDA noted lesions on the legs of two baby elephants. Ringling Bros. employees explained the "rope burns" were caused during the process of separating the baby elephants from their mothers. The USDA later determined that the handling of the two elephants "caused unnecessary trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm" and was in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

It is clear that the basic needs of elephants can never be met in captivity. The world's leading elephant experts agree; click here to read their statement. Even zoos are realizing that they cannot provide the necessary environment or proper care for elephants. Several zoos have closed their elephant exhibits, including the Detroit Zoo, San Francisco Zoo and the London Zoo.


Public Danger
Elephants and other wild animals used in circuses are also a public safety risk. Since 1990, 13 humans have died and over 100 injured in incidents involving captive elephants in the U.S. Click here for a comprehensive list of dangerous captive wildlife incidents.

After years of brutal treatment in the circus it is little wonder that animals sometimes attempt to escape their sad existence. In 1992, during a performance of the Great American Circus in Palm Bay, Florida, an elephant with several children riding on her back suddenly became enraged and ran out of the circus tent. Officers had no choice but to shoot the elephant. After dozens of bullets, the elephant, "Janet," finally died. A dozen spectators were also injured in the incident. One of the officers at the scene, Blayne Doyle said later: "I think these elephants are trying to tell us that zoos and circuses are not what God created them for. But we have not been listening."


You Can Help
• Never attend a circus featuring animal acts, and boycott all businesses which sponsor the circus. As an alternative, enjoy popular non-animal circuses, such as Cirque du Soleil, which feature trapeze artists, jugglers, clowns, acrobats and other willing performers. Click here for a list of animal-free circuses.

• Encourage children to appreciate and respect wild animals in their natural habitat. Teach children that it is not acceptable to force animals to do tricks for our amusement.

• A growing number of cities— including the Florida cities of Hollywood, Lauderdale Lakes and Pompano Beach— have restricted or banned circuses and other exotic animal acts. Ask your city council to join these compassionate communities by creating an ordinance to ban animal acts. Contact ARFF for help.


Please visit the pages below to learn more about circuses that perform in Florida.


1431 N. Federal Highway Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304 (954) 727-ARFF