Issues Facing Elephants in Captivity


Captive elephants are most often held alone, forced into a solitary life that goes against the highly social nature of their species. They are  social beings that need the company of other elephants to thrive mentally and physically. When held solitary, they suffer great loneliness much like humans. This compounded with the physical abuse can, and does, often drive them mad to the point of going rogue. It is cruel and causes great suffering.

Health Problems

[ Vet Report #1 ] [ Vet Report #2 ] Most captive elephants have chronic health problems, including but not limited to painful degenerative joint disease, foot rot from standing in their own urine and feces, diarrhea and unmanaged hyperkeratosis (abnormal thickening of the skin) that can form deep, bacteria infected, fissures.  Nosey the elephant was a good example, living in physical and psychological pain for years. Upon her rescue, Nosey had a nearly empty stomach. She was being starved.

Read the attached Vet Reports about Nosey.

Improper Containment

Much of a traveling elephants life is spent confined in inappropriate, small trailers.  Nosey’s trailer was way too short for her.  Upon rescue, Nosey was found to have severe muscle atrophy of her neck and shoulders from the thousand of hours spent inside her trailer on the road and while sitting and waiting to come out to give rides and perform.  Then back in the trailer  to be towed from one venue to the next with little relief or exercise. It has been reported that elephants spend up to 97% of their lives confined.  While not performing, they are on the road in boxcars, chained up unable to move, or behind electrified fencing in very small areas.


Most circus and zoo elephants show signs of excessive use of chains in calloused skin, bloody sores and scarring on the lower legs. This practice limits their abilities to properly exercise their joints. It also indicates lack of attention on the part of their keepers. They stand in their own urine and excrement, unable to avoid it.  This often leads to foot rott that can lead to death from infections and bacteria. Two main causes of captive elephants needing to be euthanized is foot rott and arthritis.

Bullhook Use

The bull hook is a heavy instrument with a sharp pointed tip used to jab, poke and beat the elephants. It resembles a fireplace poker. The “free contact” management practiced by circuses and many zoos requires constant use of the bull hook. Such practices are considered outdated and abusive by many experts in elephant management. Elephants only obey out of fear of being hurt.  They are trained or “broken” as babies to fear the bull hook and other objects used to severely beat them into submission,  Shovels, sledge hammers, electric devices, “hot shots”, broom handles, nails and anything found to hurt elephants, are used unmercifully.


Captive elephants are often seen exhibiting stiffness in their joints, indicating arthritis that was likely brought on by their confined lifestyle. Arthritis is one of the leading causes of death in captive elephants. Elephants in the wild are used to walking great distances every day. In the wild, elephants do not suffer arthritis like captive elephants do.  Their lifespan is greatly reduced in captivity because of this.  Elephants are not permitted to move or walk most hours of every day.  If not chained, they are kept behind tiny elecric fencing barely big enough to make a turn.  This is another “control” tactic used to keep them obedient.

Forced to Give Rides

[ What’s wrong with rides? ] Despite obvious health ailments, many circus elephants (and some zoo elephants) are forced to give rides to adults and children in between performances. This is not only painful for the elephant as the back of an elephant is not designed for weight bearing, but it’s also risky to the public. The pain of excessive riding has proven to cause elephants great distress, and some have lashed out from the frustration and the pain, killing their handlers and members of the public .  Elephants are strong animals, but for pushing, not for weigh bearing.

Forced to Perform

Many captive elephants have spent their entire lives performing in circuses across the United States. On top of elephant rides and confined living spaces, this can cause further stress to their health and psychological well-being.  Elephants must go through a “breaking” that tortures them into submission to perform.  Long periods of severe beatings with the bull hook, sledge hammers, electric prods inserted into sensitive areas such as the anus, withholding food and water, loud music, stretching with ropes and keeping babies from their mothers is the breaking process. Sooner or later, they give in and do whatever the handlers demand of them.  The fear of more beatings keep them in line.  They are so intelligent that they know just by looking at the bull hook what lies ahead if they do not perform up to standards.

Physical Abuse

In addition to the constant threat of the bullhook, captive zoo and circus elephants have suffered physical abuse at the hands of their owners, witnessed and cited over the years by citizens and authorities alike. Tools of torture used include shovels, axes, electric shock, bats, and chains.

Undercover investigative video as been obtained throughout many years.  Undisputable evidence of the continual abuse to animals while in circuses and zoos.  This abuse happens behind the scenes where the general public has no access.  It happens today and every day.  We continue to monitor and track these circuses and the abuse that is going on in the event that this evidence will cause lawmakers to inact humane laws to protect elephants and all animals from this centuries old practice.

Google “Elephant Abuse”.

Improper Diet

Elephants in captivity do not get the proper diet as they would in their natural habitats in the wild.  They need a diet of various greens, vegetables, and fruits, but circuses often do not take the time to give them what they need to physically thrive. The volume of food is often lacking as well. Elephants can eat anywhere from 300lbs to 600lbs of food every day.  They drink massive amounts of water, possibly 50 gallons a day.  Often they are fed carbonated drinks and circus food by circus patrons at the urging of their handlers.  Many elephants are deprived of food and water to make them obey and so that they will not defecate or urinate during rides or performances.

Exposure to Extreme Temperatures

While traveling every circus season, elephants are stuffed into cramped trailers, often held inside for many hours at a time. In the hot summer months, the temperature inside these containers can reach over 100 degrees.  In the winter months, the temperatures can get to freezing.  They are exposed to extreme temperatures every season. Often they are made to stand out in the blazing sun and have no access to shade while giving rides or performing. Many zoo elephants suffer the same problems.

Violations of the Animal Welfare Act

[ Read the USDA Report ] The Animal Welfare Act was signed into law in 1966. It is the only Federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. Other laws, policies, and guidelines may include additional species coverage or specifications for animal care and use, but all refer to the Animal Welfare Act as the minimum acceptable standard. The Act is enforced by the division of the USDA known as APHIS, Animal Care. Nosey’s owner was cited by the USDA for numerous and repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act. This is the case with most every circus elephant encountered.  The circuses and zoos continue to violate, and the USDA keeps fining and collecting the fees while rarely confiscating the abused elephant or shutting down a circus or zoo for these numerous and repeated violations.  The exhibitor license for Nosey’s owner was revoked in October, 2019, an unusual move for the USDA. It has mostly been left up to individual States to create Laws that prohibit wild and/or exotic animals from entering. It is up to constituents of every state to rally for these laws.  New Jersey, Hawaii and California have enacted laws that forbid wild and exotic animals in traveling acts. New Jersey’s law was aptly dubbed “Nosey’s Law”. Other states have laws against the bull hook and elephants being used in traveling acts.

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A Few Quick Facts About Nosey the Elephant

Save Nosey Now logo, Advocating for the retirement of Nosey the elephant and all other captive North American elephants to sanctuary.

We’ve listed the issues Nosey the elephant faced in her past situation. There are ways you can help with other captive elephants that suffer much the same. Here are a few quick facts about Nosey. For more details read our history on her.

  • Born in Zimbabwe: Nosey was born in Zimbabwe, Africa as a Savannah elephant,  before being wild-caught at 2 years old, ripped from her home and family to join a circus in the United States. Before her rescue in Alabama, Nosey was captive and suffering for over 30 years in deplorable conditions.   This is much the same story for many captive elephants forced to perform in circuses all over the world.
  • Age: Nosey is about 40 years old — prime of life for an elephant in the wild
  • Sanctuary: Nosey was  seized November 9th, 2017 after being found in deplorable conditions while on the road giving rides and performing. She was bravely seized from her circus owners and sent to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee only 96 miles away. Nosey, and all captive elephants, truly benefit from life in sanctuary after their time in captivity where they are treated with excellent care and love that they never had.  TRUE sanctuaries are places that allow elephants to live out their natural lives as close to what their life in the wild would have been, free, with little human contact, except for excellent veterinary care and wonderful caretakers,  and never forced to give rides or perform ever again. These are the true elephant sanctuaries in the United States: The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (EST or TES as formerly known) and The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in California. The circumstances surrounding her seizure in Alabama brought her to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee where she is finally able to be an elephant!
  • Celebrities who stood up for Nosey: Lily Tomlin, Kim Basinger, Cher, Ricky Gervais, Olivia Munn and others have spoken out. Sam Simon (Creator of The Simpsons) even offered to buy her. Members of Congress and state legislators have written on her behalf. Carol Burnett is very passionate about Nosey and has given heart wrenching and heartfelt video testimony for her.  We have appreciated all support!

Ways You Can Help Captive North American Elephants


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Changing laws in individual communities, states and across the nation is KEY! We worked alongside former Senator Raymond Lesniak in Trenton, New Jersey to bring Nosey’s Law to fruition by working with legislators in power who were willing to make it happen!  WE fought hard and never let up.  NOSEY’S LAW was signed into law in December, 2018. No elephants, or wild and exotic animals are permitted in the state of New Jersey.  We need a Nosey’s Law in EVERY STATE.  Hawaii and California enacted similar laws in 2019. (TEAPSPA will put in place a national law to strengthen state and local laws.)  This may take some time to happen, however.  Until then, everyone needs to make phone calls, send emails to their OWN legislators to get local bans and laws passed.  It’s easier than you think to approach your legislators!  They work for YOU and want your votes.  They are interested in what their constituents have to say.


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