When loading little Johnny or Susie into the car, parents use secured car seats and seat belts to protect them. When the kids jump on their bikes, Mom and Dad make sure they’re wearing safety helmets. It's all about protection.
But, when the circus or fair comes to town, parents seem to give little thought to plopping their child down on a 10,000 lb. elephant. They trust that an unknown carnival worker has complete control over the 5-ton beast leaving with their child.
Should the elephant bolt, should the elephant stumble and fall, should the loading platform collapse, have parents really looked at the protection provided by the flimsy riding apparatus strapped to the elephant’s back? In this safety conscious age, it's surprising parents rarely question the elephant trainer’s credentials, never mind the health and welfare of the elephant they've entrusted their children to.
Putting aside the tragic abuse Bob Barker documents in the ‘training’ of performing elephants (VIDEO), there’s another deadly controversy brewing. The rampant spread of TB (tuberculosis) has been documented among the captive elephant population here in the U.S. The World Health Organization has even declared the tuberculosis epidemic to be a global emergency.
Since 1993, 5 distinct strains of TB have been identified in 8 different captive elephant groups throughout the US. Circus elephants are known carriers of human TB, coming into frequent contact with the public through elephant rides and exhibitions. The disease is entirely transmissible to humans, and 11 circus workers have already tested positive for TB following contact with infected elephants. Some states, erring on the side of public safety, have banned any contact with elephants because of the threat of exposure to tuberculosis.
Elephants used by circuses have a heightened risk of developing active TB infections because their health is compromised by the constant stress of traveling inside filthy, poorly ventilated boxcars. They’re also chained, for up to 100 hours at a time, and forced to perform unnatural and sometimes painful tricks. Multiple elephants used by Ringling Bros. and George Carden Circus have tested positive in TB screening tests, but are still being forced to travel and perform.
The Huffington Post reports, “Most, if not all of Kenneth Feld's (owner of Ringling) performing endangered elephants have had Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. At least as many as 26 have died over the last 15 years, with necropsies indicating most had tuberculosis and in some cases never knew it. I cannot stop thinking about little kids and old or sick circus patrons with compromised immune systems sitting "Under the Big Top" eating cotton candy and getting exposed to TB. The stories of TB cases rising inundate newspapers, and it's a fact, elephants and humans have the same type of TB and it can be transmitted to humans.”
The AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), which accredits and sets standards for zoos, has strongly encouraged its members to discontinue public elephant rides.
Even if the elephant that shows up in your town doesn't carry TB, is an elephant ride still safe? The list of dangerous or deadly incidents with elephant rides is a parent's nightmare.
Perhaps it's time to convince little Johnny or Susie to skip the elephant rides and buy a box of popcorn instead. Better for them and better for the elephants that don't belong there in the first place.
Florida, 1992: People Magazine Terror Under the Big Top An Elephant Runs Wild, Panicking a Circus Crowd - and Pays for It with Her Life
- A woman and 5 children were riding an 8,000-pound Asian elephant, called both Janet and Kelly, when the elephant suddenly bolted. Spectators ran, and some were injured. Fortunately, the riders got down without being trampled. Police fired shots at the elephant, who survived an initial hail of bullets. It took ammunition meant to shoot through armored vehicles to kill her. How traumatic for a child to witness such a scene.
Utah, 1994: Deseret News Circus Trainer Injured When Elephant Panics
- A 6,000-pound Asian elephant named Sue was giving rides to 2 young children when her trainer accidentally bumped into her. The elephant picked up the trainer, tossed him down, and stepped on him, putting him in critical condition. The children escaped injury.
Louisville Zoo, 1994: Seattle Times Attacks Prompt Elephant-Care Crisis At Zoos, Circuses
- An 8,000-pound African elephant, Kenya, was brought in by a contractor to give rides at the Zoo. She picked up a man with her trunk and threw him to the ground, causing severe injuries. The zoo stopped offering elephant rides after the incident.
Massachusetts, 2006: The Dedham Transcript Workers Hurt by Elephant
- An elephant bumped into two men who were putting children on her back for rides at a travelling zoo; one suffered a broken arm.
Indiana, 2009: ABC RTV6 15 Hurt When Circus Elephant Causes Scaffolding To Collapse - Injured Were Waiting In Line To Ride Elephant
- An elephant giving rides at a circus became spooked and caused a mobile stairway to collapse, injuring some children.
Indiana, 2005: FOX News Circus Elephant Stomps Trainer to Death
- A trainer working for the Shrine Circus in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was stomped to death as he loaded elephants onto a trailer.
Michigan, 2003: ZooCheck Canada
- An elephant at the Shrine Circus in Muskegon, Michigan, escaped from a tent and fled into a busy downtown area.
Wisconsin, 2002: Chippewa Herald Elephant Bolts in Menomonie
- Two elephants with the Shrine Circus in Dunn County, Wisconsin, bolted out of a circus tent, scattering frightened circus goers.
Hawaii, 1994: Los Angeles Times Circus Elephant Goes Berserk, Is Shot After Killing Trainer
- A rampaging circus elephant killed a trainer and injured a groom before she was shot down in the street.A dozen people were injured as they fled.The elephant broke through the main exit and led authorities on a chase of several blocks. She was cornered in an industrial area and shot repeatedly until she crumpled to the ground.
Paris, 2013: News.com.au Runaway circus elephant kills 84-year-old man near Paris
Elephant grabbed a tarpaulin and placed it over the electric fence surrounding its pen, before breaking through barriers and trailers that formed a second enclosure. The elephant then moved towards the elderly man and struck him with its trunk, slamming him to the ground.