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Quick Facts

In the wild, bears donít ride bicycles, tigers donít jump through fiery hoops, and elephants donít stand upright on their hind legs. Circuses portray a distorted view of wildlife.

Laws protecting animals in traveling shows are inadequate and poorly enforced. The Animal Welfare Act establishes only minimum guidelines and even these meager standards are often ignored.

Animals used in circuses live a dismal life of domination, confinement, and violent training. It is standard practice to beat, shock, and whip them to make them perform ridiculous tricks that they cannot comprehend.

Most elephants used by circuses were captured in the wild. Once removed from their families and natural habitat, their lives consist of little more than chains and intimidation. Baby elephants born in breeding farms are torn from their mothers, tied with ropes, and kept in isolation until they learn to fear their trainers.

Big cats, bears, and primates are forced to eat, drink, sleep, defecate, and urinate in the same cramped cages.

Elephants often suffer crippling injuries from constant chaining and performing physically difficult tricks.

Children, who are naturally fond of animals, would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the circus if they knew of the suffering these animals endure for a fleeting moment of so- called amusement.

The circus deprives animals of their basic needs to exercise, roam, socialize, forage, and play. Stereotypic behaviors such as swaying back and forth, head-bobbing, pacing, bar-biting, and self-mutilation are common signs of mental distress.

Using dangerous animals in performances jeopardizes public safety and often puts children at greatest risk. Since 1990, 57 people have been killed and more than 120 seriously injured by captive elephants.

Animals in circuses are hauled around the country in poorly ventilated trailers and boxcars for up to 50 weeks a year in all kinds of extreme weather conditions. Access to the basic necessities of food, water, and veterinary care is often inadequate.

A growing number of cities are restricting or banning the use of animals in entertainment. More progressive circuses dazzle their audiences solely with skilled human performers.

Tricks of the Trade by PETA

Elephants are chained by one or both front and hind legs during training sessions, transport, and often between shows. Inadequate exercise and prolonged standing in wet, unsanitary conditions may lead to foot problems such as foot rot, cracked nails, and infected cuticles.

Baby elephants born in breeding compounds are prematurely removed from their mothers for training. During the separation process, calves are kept isolated and tied with ropes at the front leg and back leg. Rope burns may develop as they struggle against the restraints.

The bullhook, or ankus, has a long handle and a sharp metal hook, and it's used to discipline elephants. Although an elephantís skin is thick, it is sensitive enough for them to feel the pain of an insect bite. Trainers embed the hook into the soft tissue behind the ears and inside the mouth or tender spots under the chin and around the feet. Click here for more information on the bullhook.

The sting of a whip causes lingering, intense pain.

Electrical shock
Like the whip, a jolt of electrical current is painful. Circuses often use electric prods and smaller hand-held shocking devices that are easily concealed.

Sticks, axe handles, baseball bats, metal pipes
These weapons are used to hit and beat restrained animals in order to break their spirits and show them "whoís boss."


Circuses use wild animals who are by nature unpredictable and dangerous. When animals rebel against a trainerís physical dominance they sometimes pay with their lives. Rampaging elephants have been gunned down in city streets and caged tigers have been shot to death.

Animals such as bears may be forced to wear muzzles in an attempt to keep them subdued and to discourage them from protecting themselves if they feel threatened. Muzzling can interfere with vision and respiration.