ANAHEIM (CBS) — Animal rights activists are crying foul, claiming that Ringling Bros. Circus is mistreating their elephants and they have video they say proves it.

Animal Defenders International (ADI) say there’s video of a Ringling Bros. elephant collapsing as it was trying to cross a ramp onto a rail car after a performance at the Honda Center in Anaheim. They say the incident is symptomatic of an underlying condition the elephant, “Sarah”, is experiencing that the circus is not addressing.

(credit: Ameer Sanghvi/UGC/CBS)

“We’re calling for the USDA to pull her off the road so she gets the vet attention she needs and to get diagnosed,” ADI campaign director Matt Rossell said.

Veterinarians have tested “Sarah” and found high white blood count levels and evidence of frequent vaginal discharge, acorrding to a USDA citation which Ringling Bros. says they plan on challenging.

ADI says those symptoms are irregular for elephants and suggest “Sarah” has an infection that’s going untreated.

“We feel that [Sarah] is fatigued and that she’s stressed and that she’s sick — animals don’t typically fall off platforms.”

“There are multiple elephants that are sick that should be pulled off the road,” Rossell said.

The elephant was being escorted out of a performance at the Honda Center when she was led back to the Ringling Bros. train. She was guided onto a ramp when she fell off the platform and onto the gravel below. Witnesses say it took the pachyderm 10 minutes before she was able to get up.

The question is: Did “Sarah” fall by accident or because she’s sick?

Ringling Bros. says the whole incident has been taken out of context. They released the following statement:

“Sarah, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey elephant on the Red Unit, is healthy. The most recent allegations by Animal Defenders International (ADI) are not only false but grossly out of context. The facts are, following the final show in Anaheim, Calif., Sarah escorted by her handlers up the loading ramp into the elephant train car when she shifted her position, backing down the ramp, causing her to lose her balance, where she kneeled and rolled down the ramp onto the ground.

“It took approximately ten minutes for her handlers to allow Sarah to reposition herself and stand on her own, which she did. Sarah was immediately examined by a Ringling Bros. veterinary technician as well as Orange County animal control officers who were present during the incident. They found that she received minor abrasions but was otherwise in good condition.

“Following her examination Sarah was accompanied up the ramp and entered the train car without incident.  She has also been examined by a Ringling Bros. veterinarian, and a follow up visit in Ontario by city animal control officers found her to be good health. It is appalling that ADI would manipulate an incident and the public to further their agenda.”

Ringling Bros. spokesman Chris Reichert maintains that “Sarah” has never before had incidents that would cause alarm.

“Never,” said Reichert, adding, “This is the first incident we’ve had with her. This is basically her falling as a complete accident and it had nothing to do with any kind of condition [the ADI] is claiming she has.”

The man who shot the video of “Sarah” disagrees.

“It was not a mistake,” according to Ameer Sanghvi, an Anaheim resident who filmed the circus team after the performance as the animals were moved to the train. “She was struggling to put the first step on the ramp. She wasn’t physically able…I think she was too tired and too helpless.”

Sanghvi, an IT worker at Fullerton College, said he goes to the circus for the acrobats but is offended by the alleged mistreatment of the animal performers.

“If no one is watching, sometimes, they hurt the elephants to get them to move faster.”

Reichart said after the incident in Anaheim [Sarah] was taken to Ontario and local animal control inspectors, along with Ringling Bros. veterinarians, inspected the elephant and gave her a clean bill of health.

“She’s in perfect health,” said Ringling Bros. elephant manager Brian French, who works with “Sarah”. “She has veterinarian check-ups weekly.”

The trainer said the fall was a simple misstep on the elephant’s part as she was trying to readjust herself to get into the rail car. He said trainers checked “Sarah” for injuries while she was down on the ground and, after determining she was fine, gave her the chance to get up on her own after several tries.

CBS2 contacted the USDA in response to the ADI’s allegations and request.

“We have received several written complaints on the incident involving Sarah falling while being loaded in Anaheim. It is our standard policy that we take all complaints seriously, so we will indeed be looking into this matter very carefully,” Spokesman Dave Sacks wrote in an e-mail. “Members of our Western Regional Office have not seen the video taken by Animal Defenders International, as ADI did not supply it to the regional office as part of the complaint.”

The ADI has repeatedly criticized Ringling Bros., and others who train elephants for entertainment purposes, for allegedly using electric rods and bullhooks to “break” the animals to be obedient.

French said he’d never use an electric rod nor would he allow anything like that to be used on the elephants.

But he says trainers do use a “guide”, a stick as thin as a finger with a curved, sharp end.

Rossell said that’s nothing more than a bullhook, a rod he claims is used in violent training techniques which the ADI has documented in their undercover investigations of elephant trainers across the world.

French said, as a fourth-generation elephant handler, he’d never mistreat his charges and that the elephants are like family.

Rossell said, “If that’s family, then they’re an abusive family.”

Comments (27)
  1. Stephanie says:

    I don’t really support PETA but I would have to agree with them on this one. It is clearly animal abuse and we should boycott Ringling Bros and other circuses!

  2. wendy sumerlin says:

    I support PETA now and will continue. This is just terrible what happened. Its clearly animal abuse!

    1. Smack Down Dribble says:

      I also support People Eating Tasty Animals. PETA is BS. But Truthbtold is right. I don’t support acts that put animals in unnatural environments. A zoo at least is caring for them if they have an unsafe origin environment. The circus really should update its acts. PETA is nothing more then fascist anarchist.

      1. Ringling Hater says:

        fascist anarchists? clearly, you don’t understand either of those words.

      2. Spark McGillicutty says:

        You should really take the time to do some research before talking. And “People Eating Tasty Animals”? Really? That’s amazingly original – none of us have heard that one before…

      3. Laura says:

        How old are you? It’s one thing to eat animal products and be okay with that, but it’s another to use childish accronyms in order to offend. It doesn’t make much of a case for those of your ilk.

  3. TruthBtold says:

    I haven’t been to a circus in years because I don’t think animals should be forced to do unnatural acts just to entertain people. What kind of a life is that for animals that belong in the wild- driving around on trains and then going into brightly lit arenas with lots of noise to “perform” extremely unnatural behaviors they have been taught just so people can be entertained? If I want to go to a circus I will go to Cirque De Soleil where I know that no animals will be abused or manipulated.

  4. A says:

    I will never allow my children to go to a circus where there are animal performers. My husband worked at several RB events and witnessed several acts of animals being mistreated.

  5. M. Bear says:

    The elephant most likely fell because the animal activists were screaming loud obscenities into her ear with a very loud bullhorn frightening her and making her nervous. The activists are creating a dangerous situation on purpose to make it difficult for the trainers/ handlers while the animals are under their supervision. They should not be allowed todo this. This is clearly harassment.

    1. Not Likeyou says:

      This sounds like when an abusive husband screaming “see what you made me do!” over his cowering and battered wife. Pathetic.

  6. Carole Clarke says:

    These elephants can go to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hoehwald, Tenn, SE of Nashville where other rescued elephants live on thousands of wooded and pastured acres, watched over by the staff and vets and fed regularly. They can come into the barn in extreme weather or remain outside. There are no tourist visitors but you can watch them via webcam from 3 different sites. At present there are 2 African elephants, the rest are Indian or Asian elephants.

  7. Sun says:

    This stuff going on with Ringling Bros and how they treat their animals has been a problem for years and nobody is doing a damn thing about it. Ive always hated the circus. Just a bunch of freakshows with scary clowns, creepy magic tricks and the way they treat their animals is purely foul and should NOT be accepted in civilized society. Animals were made to run free and wild NOT chained up and beaten for our entertainment. I have seen the videos. I have soon the elephants hooks used to beat the elepahnts, the cursing and verbel abuse, the whips and chains,, the screams,, the cries, baby elephants ripped from their mothers arms to be trained for the circus and once they are done with them they send the, to an animal experimentation lab never to see the day of light again. These people are sick and evil and should all be arrested and locked up for animal creuelty chrages. Never would I support this so called “fun and entertainment.” This is an animal tortoure factory.

  8. Misty says:

    If you have any questions about how Ringling treats its elephants, read excerpts from the federal trial two years ago when the circus was charged with mistreating its animals. Witness after witness for Ringling, starting with Kenneth Feld, who owns the parent company of Ringling, admitted they beat their elephants and make them perform when they are ill —

  9. Wendy says:

    Poor Sarah. How would the people of Ringling Bros. feel if Sarah was their daughter, sister, or mother and had just collapsed?

    By God, the show must go on! People are paying $ to come and see your ill daughter wear feathers on her head and stand on a box – even though she has a serious infection! – serious enough that she collapsed!

    Ringling Bros. should be ashamed.

  10. JL says:

    I also will never take my child to a circus. We will stick with human only shows such as Cirque du Soleil. Using animals in the circus is outdated and terribly cruel. Anyone who says otherwise is heartless and/or clueless.

  11. cassie says:

    The USA should ban animals in circuses straight away, it is a first rate country trailing behind other countries on this issue

  12. Smack Down Dribble says:

    So Ringling Hater and Spark can’t read into humor then place your head back up where it was. Lame-o’s.

    1. Laura says:

      It’s not funny. When you say “People Eating Tasty Animals” it makes a joke out of something that some people take seriously. To you it’s a “joke” but that is part of the problem. The fact that animal welfare is not taken seriously is a huge issue. The tasty animals you eat have faces and feel pain when they die. Not to mention the fact that they are merely a product to those that produce them for you and the meat yeilded is low quality and full of antibiotics. Just for you! Don’t make “funny” comments if you can’t handle the response.

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