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As children, many of us grew up seeing animals performing in circuses either in-person or on T.V. Not knowing anything beyond what was right in front of us, we sat in awe at the amazing feats the tigers and elephants could accomplish.

Unfortunately, what we saw and what children still see at circus shows today is anything but amazing. In fact, each and every animal in a circus troupe is forced to perform tricks.

According to the Performing Animal Welfare Society, these tricks are learned through “extreme physical coercion and violence, including the restriction of food and/or water, use of bull hooks, stun guns and other electric shock devices as well as metal bars, whips, and intimidation.”

What’s more, these animals spend 96 percent of their lives in cages or chains, never allowed the chance to be the individuals they truly are.

One of the worst circus animal abuse offenders is Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. PETA has been uncovering Ringling’s cruelty for years through undercover investigative work and have found that Ringling’s elephants are often “chained inside filthy, poorly ventilated boxcars for an average of more than 26 straight hours … when the circus travels,” in addition to being subjected to physical abuse.

“Even former Ringling employees have reported that elephants are routinely abused and violently beaten with bullhooks (an elephant-training tool that resembles a fireplace poker), in order to force them to perform tricks,” PETA reports.

In gore-free yet equally heartbreaking video below, PETA tells that story of one of Ringling’s 14 elephants. Her name is Karen and she is a 42-year-old elephant who was taken from her wild home in Asia to become a circus performer against her will.

PETA reports that “experts have deemed her to be in such a poor condition that the humane option would be to allow her to retire” and in 2010, Karen was granted a reprieve. Yet, as of March 2011, she is again back in the circus. This is her story:

What You Can Do

  • Take action to help circus elephants today by signing this petition to urge Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to remove “all ailing animals” from Ringling’service. Please also be sure to call the U.S. Department of Agriculture at (202)-720-3631 or write to: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Attention: Secretary Tom Vilsack, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Room 200-A, Washington DC, 20250 to follow up with your petition message. These elephants need our voices in order to stop this cruelty.
  • Opt for an animal-free circus instead. Check out some amazing groups to see right here!
  • For more information, please visit PETA’s website on Ringling.