How do you train a baby elephant for the greatest show on Earth?
Conditioning baby elephants for the circus starts from the day they are born. They must learn not to push, kick, or bump their handlers and if they do their trainers will “correct” them with a hit of the hand, or bullhook. Once time for serious training, baby elephants first of all, can not be distracted by their mothers! It is best to separate them young, at about 18 months old. This is often difficult and dangerous as baby elephants never seem to want to leave their mother, and mothers normally don’t want to leave their babies. Sometimes though, when mothers were separated from their mothers and don’t know how to care for a calf, or when they were bred to young, they show little interest in their calves, making this process a lot easier! Baby elephants are absolutely full of spirit, and that’s no good, they must be obedient and full of fear! Baby elephants’ feet are chained up so they can not run away, and they are ‘broken’ being beaten with bullhooks and sometimes electrocuted with prods. From an early age they must learn to be afraid of bullhooks so that they will be better performers, and more obedient. Most circus tricks aren’t natural, or at all comfortable so it’s difficult, and sometimes impossible to train them with positive reinforcement alone, and fear is the only good motivator. If an elephant does something right, it gets rewarded, normally with food! If it does something wrong, it can get a number of things including a punch, pinch, pull, bullhook hit, or maybe even whipped! Elephants are no different than a dog, and beating them is no different than tugging on a leash. It’s not like they’re smart, or emotional beings, or remember things anyway, who cares if they’re beaten? This flawless training system has worked for over 100 years and had proven to produce quality, mentally damaged performers for the greatest show on earth!
Elephants are then ready for the exciting life on the road! Filled with little exercise, tons of cramped travel (every elephants dream obviously), and tons of screaming, gawking people to entertain! This makes for a life filled with those super funny stereotypical behaviours, like bouncing or swaying or that fun dancing type activity! Who cares about a shortened lifespan, health risks, safety risks, or elephant feelings (pfft like that’s a thing!), as long as you get an awesome show with elephants doing handstands it’s all good in the end.
It is, it’s outrageous! But sadly, not matter how many circuses deny it, it is true for the majority. This type of training damages the animal to a point where they can be very unstable, and this as resulted in the deaths of people, meaning this type of training is dangerous for the animals and people alike. Training protocols haven’t changed much in the past 100 years, and most circuses refuse to let anyone from the public see their training practices, leading me to think there is something to hide! Humane training is rare.
Boycott circuses and encourage others to do so if you care about the welfare of elephants, and/or the safety of the people who work with them.