Royal Hanneford Circus’s Record of Abuse, Endangerment
By Delcianna J. Winders
While the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has shuttered after a decade of falling ticket sales and mounting evidence of animal abuse, it’s business as usual for the Royal Hanneford Circus, which is performing at the Duke City Fair today through June 18.
Royal Hanneford’s history of featuring elephant acts with known records of animal abuse and public endangerment exemplifies why, despite Ringling’s closure, legislation like the recently introduced Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act is so important.
The elephant handler currently performing with Royal Hanneford was caught on video violently attacking elephants with bullhooks — weapons that resemble fireplace pokers and are designed to inflict pain — and electric prods. During the attacks he can be heard screaming and swearing at the animals — who cry out — and encouraging others to beat the animals as well.
Royal Hanneford has also been cited at least a dozen times for failing to provide veterinary care to elephants, including elephants suffering from foot problems, which are the leading cause of death in captive elephants.
But it’s not just the animals who Royal Hanneford puts at risk. The circus was recently fined after elephants escaped from the circus. Circus employees had encouraged the audience to stomp their feet and make loud noises, which stressed the animals and resulted in the escape.
This was hardly the first escape for the company that supplies elephants for Royal Hanneford’s shows, which has repeatedly been fined for mishandling elephants. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has noted that the outfit’s sloppy handling of these dangerous animals poses a “risk of serious injury to members of the public.”
In another incident, an elephant with Royal Hanneford rampaged during a circus show, charging the bleachers and sending spectators running for their lives.
The earth’s largest land mammals, elephants can easily kill humans with as little as a trunk swipe or foot stomp. Indeed, the animals kill about one American every year, while injuring more. Consider the incident in which a circus elephant threw kicked a man, throwing him about twenty and killing him. This elephant was supplied by the brother of the elephant handler now performing with Royal Hanneford.
Royal Hanneford’s elephants also pose a risk of tuberculosis transmission. Captive elephants often carry TB, which they transmit to humans, even without direct contact, since it’s airborne. Seven people were diagnosed with tuberculosis after being around infected elephants at the Oregon zoo, and nine individuals contracted TB from a former circus elephant at a Tennessee refuge — including one person who had no contact with the animal whatsoever.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has underscored that there is a “substantial need” for better infection control practices to reduce TB transmission by captive elephants, and for “improved TB screening methods for elephants . . . to prevent exposure to humans.”
This is no mere hypothetical risk with Royal Hanneford — an elephant traveling with the circus tested positive for the disease, and other elephants with the circus were exposed to it. Workers with the circus have also failed TB tests.
In fact, experts estimate 18 to 50% of Americans who work around elephants have TB. Despite these very real perils, Royal Hanneford has repeatedly been cited for failing to test both elephants and employees for tuberculosis.
It’s against this backdrop of routine animal abuse and neglect, and serious dangers to human health and safety, that jurisdictions across the U.S., and indeed the world, are banning traveling elephant acts. A bill to make these bans federal, the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act, deserves our support.
In the meantime, anyone who cares about elephants — or just the health and safety of their family — would be wise to stay away from the Duke City Fair as long as Royal Hanneford is there.