The Tragic Tale of Old Bet: America’s First ‘Circus Elephant’

In the early 1800s, Old Bet was a young elephant calf—likely living with her family on the African plains and learning how to find water, roughhousing with her cousins, swimming, and taking dust baths.

One day, Old Bet suddenly found herself on the fledging U.S. circus circuit, touring a strange country, no doubt feeling completely confused by her new circumstances and missing her home and family—who were now just a painful memory.

Her miserable existence of providing humans with entertainment continued until July 1816, when someone named Daniel Davis fatally shot her. The reason will forever remain a mystery, but one theory is that Davis was irate because farmers were spending their hard-earned money just to see an elephant.

The award-winning film The Elephant’s Songanimated and directed by Lynn Tomlinson—beautifully tells Old Bet’s tragic tale with stunning imagery:

Although PETA wasn’t yet established to protest for Old Bet’s release and return home, we’ve been working to get elephants out of circuses since our very beginning in 1980. The days of boxing up animals, beating them until they perform silly tricks, and tearing apart animal families and friends in the name of entertainment are coming to an end. Circus giant Ringling Bros. went dark after 146 years and shows like Kelly Miller Circus have eliminated animal acts. Cities around the U.S. and even entire states have imposed strict bans on exotic-animal displays.

Help us protect all elephants and other animals who were forced to follow in Old Bet’s weary footsteps by signing and sharing our circus-related action alerts.