Former Ringling Elephants to Escape from Depressing Zoo Facility

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF's Staff Writer on August 9, 2013

Is anything cuter than a baby elephant? While the cute factor reels in zoo visitors, it papers over the dark side of keeping elephants in inadequate zoos. But a recent decision to transfer long-suffering elephants Sophie and Babe away from unbearable zoo conditions—solely on the basis of protecting their health and welfare–provides a glimmer of hope.


Click to SHARE on Facebook!

Captivity has caused a lifetime of suffering to elephants like Sophie and Babe—currently housed at the Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, Illinois. Like other forms of captive animal exhibition, zoos bring in massive profits at the expense of animal welfare. That is why this June the Animal Legal Defense Fund sent a formal letter to the director of Niabi Zoo and its municipal owner, the Forest Preserve Commission, urging the immediate removal of the zoo’s elephants to a safe sanctuary—and warning legal action would be taken if necessary to protect the elephants. And in July, veterinary advice, public pressure, and letters such as the one sent by Animal Legal Defense Fund helped Niabi Zoo ownership and management make the right call to transfer Sophie and Babe, guaranteeing an improvement to the elephants’ welfare.

Sophie and Babe were both kidnapped from the wild as children and taken away from their mothers. Before they arrived at Niabi Zoo, they were enslaved for decades at Ringling Brothers Circus, where they were beaten into performing unnatural tricks for audiences, and chained so tightly they couldn’t move. In the wild, elephants live in social groups structured around mothers and travel as much as 30 miles per day with their families to find fresh vegetation and water to play and bathe in. These majestic giants need large, open spaces for their health and wellbeing. Zoos like Niabi, however, remove even these basic needs, denying elephants social connections, family ties, and space to roam, and they often forcing elephants to stand for hours on hard surfaces. As occurs at many other zoos, Niabi workers even apply cruel discipline using bullhooks and chains; a bullhook is a tool used to punish and control elephants, consisting of a long handle connected to a sharp steel hook, allowing “trainers” to poke, pull, and yank at sensitive areas of the elephant’s flesh.

The pain endured by Sophie and Babe has been well-documented by veterinarians, and everyone agrees Sophie is deteriorating rapidly. Another harsh winter for this Asian elephant could mean her doom. Elephant expert Dr. Alan Roocroft’s March 2013 report on the Niabi Zoo’s elephant exhibit raised serious concerns about Babe and Sophie’s welfare. The Roocroft report documented that they lack almost any enrichment and are often forced to stand for 24 hour periods during the winter in a dark, cold, windy enclosure—which has caused Sophie so much pain that she now has to sleep standing up. These outrageous conditions, which violate the Endangered Species Act and Animal Welfare Act, led the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to refuse accreditation to the Niabi Zoo.

Cramped conditions in tiny enclosures lead to serious health problems for elephants like Sophie and Babe, particularly foot infections and arthritis. Other painful problems for these intelligent, sensitive animals include an extremely psychological distress and intense joint pain.

Thankfully, the Forest Preserve Commission has voted overwhelmingly to move Sophie and Babe to a less cruel location, still to be determined. Unfortunately, while the Forest Preserve Commissioner has admitted the facility is inadequate to house elephants, he has reportedly suggested replacing them with rhinos—large mammals who would also suffer terribly in the inadequate conditions of the exhibit.

Do wild animals deserve to suffer so immensely—ultimately to be put out to pasture when their health problems make them too expensive to house—just so zoos can exploit their appeal to visitors? It is time for our society to take a sharper look at the cruelty behind captive elephant trade. Sophie and Babe deserve immediate transfer to a reputable and appropriate sanctuary. After all their suffering, they have a chance at a better future—and ALDF aims to ensure that they get it.

Tweet This!

34 thoughts on “Former Ringling Elephants to Escape from Depressing Zoo Facility

  1. Please free theses beautiful animals! They have suffered enough. Please. Be kind!

    1. penny says:


  2. Mariel Chenier says:

    PLEASE, every being on earth deserves comfort and quality of life. Quality of life for an elephant IS NOT A CAGE. Or to be a spectacle. Please please please stop these inhumane practices. Everyone needs family and a happy life. Stop this now.

  3. Angela Ballard says:

    Do you think people really enjoy seeing these elephants? Visiting animals should be a pleasant experience, not one where the animals are pitied. These beautiful creatures deserve so much more and their pain in real! What a shame that humans continue to show such ignorance, selfishness and utterly disgusting behaviour day after day. You need to stop this now – have a conscience and have a care for those who share this planet.

  4. Theresa Mercadante says:

    Do you believe in God? Do you believe in nature? Either way they were not born for this – set them free.

  5. Cecy V. Aguirre López says:

    Please stop using animals, let this beautiful animals free, let them be.

    Just stop using them. STOP using any kind of animals, you can have a circus with just human beings.

    Thank you

  6. eileen emond says:

    free them now

  7. Mary Ellen Davis says:

    Inhumane to keep these large, wild animals in cages. Shame on you.

  8. Sirs ,
    You’re only generating bad press for yourselves which may go viral . The conditions under your Asian Elephants are kept is substandard as you are well aware . If you move them to another facility more suited to their welfare perhaps in exchange for an exhibit more suited to your weather and space . Animal rights have become a real Hot Button issue and I would suspect that you would like to avoid this kind of controversy . I hope your listening .Thanks

  9. Catie says:

    Elephants (all creatures) need freedom and protection from human monsters. Cage human monsters, capitalists, and corrupt politicians instead.

  10. Lorena says:

    free them now

  11. Andrea Pal says:

    Let them free!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Stop torturing animals!!!!!!!! They are not here for our entertainment!!!!!!!!!! They are on the planet to live and be cared for and respected and loved!!!!!!!!!!!! You stupid excuses for human beings!!!!!!!!!

  12. Erica Hatcher says:

    So happy they are taking elephants out of this zoo. This is my hometown and I remember 50 years ago hating to see the animals locked up, even as a small child. We used to play with the baby lion cubs as the previous owner of the zoo would bring them home. They lived up the street from us, and I remember wondering then why they weren’t with their mother. Animals should not be kept in cages, but have a ‘cage’ or place to go to call their own little sanctuary, with the freedom to get out and run when they want to. It’s too cold in that area for these animals and they must suffer greatly when it’s zero outside and that concrete gets like ice. Now they’re going to put rhinos in there! How crazy is that!

  13. Cindy Lynn says:

    These are sensitive animals and they need room to flourish. Not languish in small zoo enclosures. They also need a companion. There is an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee that may take them. Please consider this!! This is painful and unnecessary!!

  14. Brenda Flemmons says:

    Man is supposed to be the superior animal – prove it by showing compassion and kindness to these wonderful animals – we’re supposed to be the ones with souls – leth their plight touch yours –

  15. Laurie says:

    The majority of the human species is disgusting!! That is why animal advocates always have such huge, long battles to fight. They dismiss us as radicals but what these profit-whores are doing is radical!!!!

  16. Pat Hughes says:

    This is so wrong please stop!

  17. James says:

    Do NOT visit zoos or circus, they will go out of business themselves if NO one visits them or patronizes them. We should work to get them out of business so that no animal has to suffer.

  18. ilonka goode says:

    please free this beautyfull animals the dont belong in a zoo nor on ring to keep them

  19. Zdenka Prouzova says:

    Inhumane to keep these large, wild animals in cages. Shame on you, set them free!

  20. Anona murphy says:

    This is SHAMEFUL!
    Release these animals now!

  21. aneta klapsia says:

    this is wrong, they belong to wild not zoo

  22. Vibeke stokke says:

    time to deal with this

  23. Animals do not belong in cages and on view for the public. Set them free and let them live the life that God intended for them!!!!!!!! For shame!

  24. Lyn Lusse says:

    These precious animals deserve to live out their lives in peace. They have done there bit for the greedy humans, now do the decent thing and retire them to a home that will look after them the way they should have been right in the beginning.

  25. Fabiana says:

    THIS IS ANIMAL CRUELTY!!! Go get a real job! WORK! Don’t make these animals work for you. Animals were not born to become human’s attractions. Take them back to where they belong.

  26. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park would be the perfect home for Sophie and Babe. It is warm most of the year and is arranged to provide everything African animals need to thrive. This should happen before winter sets in.

  27. anne says:

    How does tweeting change the elephant’s plight? There are laws against animal cruelty. What can be legally done? How can we join forces with other animal rights groups to affect change?

  28. zoe says:

    Please free these poor elephants who have had a lifetime of pain. The world looks badly upon u for this cruel trearment. Get them to an elephant sanctuary for godsake do not replace them with rhinos wat the hell is wrong with man kind!!!

  29. Mari Lynn says:

    These animals were born free and should stay free!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  30. Tom Lahey says:

    Let them go. Haven’t you made enough blood money off these poor souls yet? Shame on you!

  31. Maria Cantwell says:

    Give Sophie a chance to live a longer life. Free these elephants at once.

  32. Gill Kilroy says:

    NOW is the time to let these poor creatures go to spend what years they have left in some kind of comfort and freedom from the terrible oppression they have suffered. If you people have an ounce of compassion, then now is the time to dig it out of yourselves and use it!

  33. Linda P says:

    We must stand up and stop abuse. Eyes wide open.

Be a Partner in Protection!

Donate monthly to help animals.

or make a one-time gift »

ALDF's Online Store

Help fund our lifesaving work!


Stay Connected

Sign up for Action Alerts.

Join Us

Follow ALDF on these networks:

Stay Connected

Sign up for Action Alerts.