Death of Shrine Circus Elephant Handler Mirrors SeaWorld Orca Tragedy

Use of elephants in entertainment is as cruel and more dangerous than use of Orcas

San Rafael, Calif. – In Defense of Animals (IDA) is calling for an end to the use of elephants in circuses, following the death Friday of a Shrine Circus elephant handler in Pennsylvania after being struck by an African elephant named Dumbo. The incident comes just six weeks after an orca killed his trainer at SeaWorld. Both deaths are reminders of the deadly consequences of using large, highly intelligent, and dangerous animals in entertainment.

“Like orcas, elephants are highly complex animals who suffer terribly in captivity,” said Dr. Elliot Katz, IDA president and a veterinarian. “Elephants in circuses endure intense confinement, social isolation and the constant threat of physical punishment. It is no surprise that these highly stressed animals lash out at the people around them.”

Elephants in circuses spend their lives in chains and in the tight confinement of trucks and train cars, constantly transported around the country. Trainers dominate elephants through physical punishment with the bullhook, a steel-tipped weapon similar to a fireplace poker that is used to strike, stab, prod and intimidate elephants into obedience. Electric prods are often used.

Like almost all elephants in circuses, Dumbo was torn from her family in the wild. She was sold to a circus trainer at age three, and has lived alone for over a year. Elephants in the wild roam many miles each day, and live in large, tight-knit family groups in which females remain with their mothers for life.

Circuses put traumatized, stressed elephants in dangerously close proximity to the public, with many used for rides, including Dumbo. Since 1990, at least 13 human deaths and 120 injuries in the U.S. have been attributed to elephants, including:

* In 2009, 15 children were injured when one elephant pushed another into a platform holding people waiting for elephant rides at a Shrine Circus in Indianapolis. The elephants had a history of fighting yet continued to give rides after the incident. One elephant had previously injured a woman.
* In 2007, an elephant worker suffered broken ribs and a dislocated jaw when a “startled” elephant ran over him at the Arizona Renaissance Festival. This elephant is still giving rides.
* In 2006, an elephant named Minnie was giving rides with the Commerford Petting Zoo and seriously injured two handlers, one of whom reportedly struck her in the face. She was involved in at least three previous incidents and is still giving rides.
* In 2005, a trainer was trampled to death by at least one of three Tarzan Zerbini elephants used in an Indiana Shrine Circus. Zerbini elephants are still giving rides.
* In 2004, an elephant named Nosey with the Liebel Family Circus injured a worker after she struck him with her tusk. Nosey still gives rides to children regularly.

“Despite a terrible record of elephant suffering and human injuries and deaths, it is business as usual for the circus industry,” stated Katz. “It’s time to put a stop to the dangerous and cruel practice of using elephants in circuses.”

April 12, 2010

Contact: Catherine Doyle, 323-301-5730,, Deborah Robinson, 860-836-7761,

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization located in San Rafael, Calif. dedicated to protecting animals' rights, welfare, and habitat through education, outreach, and our hands-on rescue facilities in Mumbai, India, Cameroon, Africa, and rural Mississippi. _________________________________________________________________________________

IN DEFENSE OF ANIMALS • 3010 KERNER BLVD. • SAN RAFAEL, CA 94901 • 415-448-0048

9 Comments on “Death of Shrine Circus Elephant Handler Mirrors SeaWorld Orca Tragedy”

  • Kathleen Wattle wrote on 12 April, 2010, 11:51

    I agree wholeheartedly that is is wrong and unsafe to use elephants (and big cats for that matter) for circus acts. These are wild animals, even if born in captivity, and should not be treated so inhumanely with little room to move, act normally and pressured constantly to perform. I am not against elephants in captivity – it’s good to be able to see them and look in awe on them in a natural type of setting such as a very well made zoo or even better at a preserve or sanctuary. But the nature of traveling circus shows with cramped quarters, constant movement, unrelenting performances – it’s just not right to do this to these animals.

    Not only it is ethically wrong, it’s patently unsafe to act so aggressively towards them (just the fact of pushing them to “perform” is aggressive enough) and then place them in the public view where handlers and the public can be hurt or killed. We need to stop this and bring traveling circuses into the 21st century where they rely upon the wondrous entertainment acts of man to dazzle the audiences. Cirque du Soleil is a good example of this with its acrobats and contortionist dancers. Even the Cirque du Soleil production Cavalia showcasing the magnificent beauty of horses and the delightful partnership with caring horsemen is a wonderful example of how to treat animals properly and show the world their beauty as well.

  • Meredith Buist wrote on 12 April, 2010, 13:08

    Everyone needs a reality check when it comes to animal welfare around the world. Of course elephants shouldn’t be taken from their mothers out of their natural habitat and exploited for human entertainment. Why should they be??? To make money??? That is outrageous!! How can this still be legal? Circus acts that involve any animals need to be shut down. It’s outdated and cruel to treat any living being like a slave. All the remaining elephants in these “acts” should be sent to sanctuaries where they can live like elephants should.

  • Carol Ammens wrote on 12 April, 2010, 13:28

    As long as we continue to keep wild animals in inappropriate domestic settings, these tragedies will continue to happen. But the biggest tragedy is not the humans who can choose to make a living dominating traumatized elephants and, therefore, take the risk. The biggest tragedy is that we still continue to allow animals in circuses where they are stripped of every bit of their quality of life and everything that is instinctual to them to perform silly tricks for clueless, ignorant people in the circus. If the country of India can order all elephants out of zoos and circuses, we should be able to do the same. And yet, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture can’t even be bothered to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and continues to stand by while these animals are driven crazy and die by inches each day in the circus.

  • lisa white wrote on 12 April, 2010, 15:22

    Elephants should not be in circuses or zoos, no animal should be. Unfortunately they have been ripped from their homes and families and suffer horribly so the only safe and humane place for an elephant in this country is a sanctuary where they are free to roam and act as normal as possible. I can’t believe that people continue to patronize circuses and zoos knowing that these animals suffer every single day and they are ticking time bombs. When will people learn. If these places aren’t making money they will cease to exist. People need to wake up and smell the coffee!

  • Fran Hoef-Bouchard wrote on 12 April, 2010, 19:30

    Now the circus has to find an excuse for this incident, they will blame it on poor Dumbo and have him destroyed, because they, the circus will refuse to admit that having these animals in captivity, under unnatural conditions, is the real problem. To admit anything else would be holding themselves responsible, and everyone knows that is never going to happen. So Dumbo will pay the ultimate price with his life, because these criminals are allowed to get away with this. And let us not forget the paying ignorant public who has to be entertained 24/7, they too are to blame for this situation. People as a whole are not particularly bright, and its a certain segment of our society that demand to see large wild animals do stupid tricks. If you show these same people videos of people slamming into brick walls they will give you the same enthusiastic response, so changing their perception definitely would be a hard sell. They can’t help themselves, they are dull and stupid. We live in a nation of idiots. I am angry that this has happened once again, and I know it won’t be the last.

  • S Morris wrote on 15 April, 2010, 18:40

    Seems like animals are getting fed up with humans making a mockery of them. Yay for the animals! I’M ALL FOR THE ANIMALS!

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