“I stopped telling people what I did for a living. I was ashamed.” (Sammy Haddock, former elephant trainer for Ringling Bros.)
Sammy Haddock worked with circus elephants over a 30-year period, including time at Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation. Fulfilling a promise to his dying wife, a then-retired Haddock approached PETA (an unlikely pairing, for Haddock was a meateater/hunter) about exposing Ringling Bros. cruelty.
In August 2009, Haddock, who would die just a few months later, signed a notarized declaration that included these workplace pictures. Referring to one photo, Haddock said, “The baby elephant is slammed to the ground. See its mouth is wide open? It’s screaming bloody murder. It doesn’t have its mouth open for a carrot.” Feld Entertainment, Ringling’s parent company, did not reject the authenticity of the photos, just the interpretation. Said Gary Jacobson, the Center’s head trainer and Haddock’s former boss, “These are classic pictures of professional elephant-training. …This is the most humane way.”
The worst, for Haddock, was the “gut-wrenching” separation of mother and calf: “When pulling 18-24-month-old babies, the mother is chained against the wall by all four legs. Usually there’s 6 or 7 staff that go in to pull the baby rodeo style. …Some mothers scream more than others while watching their babies being roped. …Once they’re pulled from their mothers, they’ve tasted their last bit of freedom and the relationship with their mother ends.”
Before graduating from rope restraint, the calves must develop learned helplessness, a process that can take up to six months. They will spend 23 hours of their day restrained. Once inside the training tent, loud music is played to “drown out the baby’s screaming” and to ready them for the circus of the circus. According to Haddock, Ringling elephant training requires “brute force, electricity, and a savage disposition.” He added, “Raising a baby elephant at Ringling is like raising a kid in jail.”
As for the bullhook, which Ringling calls a “guide,” Haddock said, “[The bullhook] is designed for one purpose, and one purpose only, to inflict pain and punishment. I should know, I used to make them.” Hook and burn (from the occasional electric “hot shot”) marks, according to Haddock, were covered with mud for USDA inspections.
Haddock also confessed to his own cruelty. To retaliate for “Vance” knocking him unconscious: “I burned out two hot shots and fried him for about ten minutes. He was screaming and regurgitating water.” And to teach “Major” a 15-minute lesson in obedience: “I laid him down and hooked him repeatedly in his ear canal. …Major was screaming bloody murder.”
Finally, “During the course of my career, I’ve seen elephants being beaten who have no idea why they are being beaten or what is expected of them. They will start randomly lifting one leg, then another and another, lifting their trunk, hoping some trick will satisfy the trainer and make the beating stop.” All done to one of the most intelligent species on the planet. How profoundly sad.