People enjoy showbiz,
but elephants do not. This is the message Alec Baldwin delivers in a disturbing
four-minute video recently released with People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals (PETA) to raise awareness of elephant mistreatment in circuses.
According to Baldwin,
elephants in a circus live very different lives from animals in the wild,
beginning as babies when "they are torn away form their mothers and
forced to begin training for their circus performances."
Baldwin goes on to describe
the treatment of some elephants in circuses, describing photos taken by
a Ringling trainer allegedly showing "the terrified baby elephants
as they are stretched out, slammed to the ground, gouged with bullhooks,
and shocked with electric prods. They scream, cry and struggle while they
are forced into the painful positions necessary for circus tricks."
Veterinarian Dr. Mel
Richardson describes in the video that these methods are used to break the
spirit of the elephant so that they will perform tricks. To Richardson though,
"the amount of suffering those elephants go through in order to entertain
anyone's five year old for 15 minutes is a crime."
The treatment of elephants
in circuses has long been a contentious issue. Last November, Ringling Brothers
and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Feld Entertainment) agreed to pay a $270,000
fine for allegedly violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Although Feld
did not admit wrongdoing, they agreed to both pay the fine and develop animal
handling training for employees.
More recently, a judge
blocked a ban on the use of bullhooks in Atlanta, Georgia, just as Ringling
Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus came to town. According to the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, Ringling Brothers spokesman Stephen Payne said, "When
it comes to taking care of elephants and other exotic animals, we really
are the experts. Not PETA."
Payne also recently
wrote an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, defending their treatment of elephants:
"All of our animals are trained using a system of repetition and reward.
Elephants and horses are transported in custom-built, specially designed
railway cars. As a result, the health and vitality of our animals is something
we can showcase at each and every Ringling Bros. performance."
While the animals may
appear healthy during performances, Baldwin says that behind-the-scenes
is a much different story. He cites findings that some elephants are beaten
before walking on stage, and alleges that when not performing, elephants
are chained up for long hours, resulting in chronic health problems.
Other celebrities have
also spoken out against the use of elephants in circuses. Actress Olivia
Munn blogged for HuffPost about Sarah, a 54-year-old elephant with a chronic
infection. Munn wrote: "An elephant who reaches out her trunk to another
in friendship or for comfort is punished with a whack of a bullhook -- a
heavy baton with a sharp point and hook on the end -- the ubiquitous device
used by Ringling to keep elephants fearful and compliant."
Beats Animals" website suggests concerned readers should push U.S.
Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack to continue the USDA's efforts
and seize Ringling's elephants.
Baldwin concludes in
his video, "Circuses deny animals everything that is natural and important
to them. Every basic instinct is met with punishment. As long as circuses
continue to use elehpants, these intelligent beings will continue to experience
enormous suffering. Please, never attend a circus that uses animals."