top of page

The Plight of Elephants in Circuses and Captivity

Elephants, the gentle giants of the animal kingdom, have long been a symbol of majesty and strength. Yet, behind the colorful curtain of circus tents, there lies a starkly different reality for these sentient creatures. Today, we delve into the lives of Elephants in circuses and captivity, shedding light on their plight and the urgent need for action against inhumane captivity practices.

An Elephant behind an electric fence

An Elephant behind an electric fence

The Hidden Suffering Behind Entertainment

For many years, circuses around the globe have used Elephants as star performers, drawing crowds eager to see them showcase their intelligence and abilities. Sadly, the glittering spectacle masks a life of hardship and suffering for these animals. In circuses, Elephants are often confined and chained for hours on end, forced to pose in unnatural positions, and trained to do tricks by using physical punishment (negative reinforcement).

The training methods used to make these majestic creatures perform are beyond cruel. Elephants are often beaten, shocked with electric prods, and subjected to the constant threat of the bull hook – a sharp tool designed to inflict pain and fear, for the ultimate purpose of controlling and disciplining Elephants. This relentless cycle of abuse continues from their infancy well into adulthood.

The Psychological Toll of Captivity

Elephants are highly social and intelligent animals, with complex emotional and social needs. The emotional depth of elephants is profound – they grieve for their deceased loved ones, they experience joy, and they can suffer deeply from psychological trauma.

In the wild, they form close-knit family units and show behaviors that reflect a strong sense of community and empathy. When held in captivity, they lose this natural social structure, which often leads to signs of depression, aggression, and even symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder in humans.

The Road to Freedom

Fortunately, there is a silver lining as awareness about the plight of circus Elephants grows. Circuses like Ringling Brothers have started to phase out elephant acts, driven by public outcry against the cruel treatment of these animals. In the US, legislative efforts like Nosey’s Law and the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act (TEAPSPA) struggle to prohibit the use of certain wild animals in circuses and traveling shows. However, several countries such as Chile and the UK, have either banned or put in place legislation to protect elephants from the cruelty of circus life.

Supporting Elephant Recovery and Rehabilitation

As advocates for wildlife conservation, we must continue to raise awareness about the plight of Elephants in circuses and captivity. Supporting sanctuaries and conservation projects that provide a safe haven for Elephants and those who have been traumatized, abused, or orphaned is also crucial.

Lady, an ex-circus Elephant

Lady, an ex-circus Elephant

Photo credit: Global Sanctuary for Elephants

Meet Lady, a former circus Elephant now living in the care of Global Sanctuary for Elephants. Lady is the perfect example of the horrible physical and mental toll circus Elephants experience. After traveling and performing for over 40 years in a circus, Lady’s feet show the permanent scars of life in captivity. Diagnosed with osteomyelitis, this chronic foot disease is often found among circus elephants and requires ongoing foot soaks and treatments just to minimize Lady’s pain. According to her caregivers at Global Sanctuary for Elephants:

“Her feet are in horrific condition, something that would never be seen in the wild... We do our best to treat any flare-ups she experiences and provide her with anti-inflammatory and pain medicines to make her more comfortable.”

Despite Lady’s chronic pain, she is strong, playful, and fearless as she wanders the hills and valleys, making the most of her new-found freedom in sanctuary.

To learn more about the plight of circus Elephants, and to hear firsthand what Lady’s life is like now in sanctuary, join us on Wednesday, April 24th for our next Wild Talks featuring Scott and Kat Blais, Co-Founders of Asia Wild grantee, Global Sanctuary for Elephants.

How Can You Help?

By making a donation to Asia Wild today, you can make a lasting impact on the welfare of Elephants and countless other animals who have suffered in captivity. Together, we can turn compassion into action for every animal in need.

Asia Wild is committed to rescuing and protecting the welfare of animals worldwide. We support organizations rescuing animals from abuse and captivity, preventing illegal wildlife trade and trafficking, and promoting global conservation and sustainability efforts. We aim to create a world where all animals can thrive, free from harm and exploitation.


bottom of page