Circus World Museum, Baraboo, WI, announced May 7 that they have brought back three aging, arthritic elephants to be exploited in their big top performance and forced to give rides for cash.
Each summer the elephants spend 14 hours being trucked 900 miles from Hugo, OK, to Baraboo, where they’re leased from Carson & Barnes circus and handled by Armando Loyal. During the winter, they live at the Endangered Ark Foundation (EAF).
Barbara Trask Lovett serves as president of Save Nosey Now and is on the board of directors of The Elephant Advocacy project. She described appalling conditions at EAF.
“[It’s a] horrid place,” she said. “Carson and Barnes Circus keeps their elephants there, chained for 16-20 hours a day, much like Ringling did at their compound in Florida. I could tell you so much about EAF … I hate that place!”
Allegations of animal neglect and elephant abuse at Carson & Barnes circus go back more than 30 years. The USDA has fined them thousands of dollars for violations and complaints that employees kicked an elephant in the face, repeatedly stabbed an elephant with a pocket knife, beat elephants with bull hooks and shocked them with electrical prods. Inspectors witnessed elephants with boils the size of soccer balls and numerous instances of animals being denied needed medical care.
In 2013 the USDA cited Carson & Barnes for an elephant named Nina who was at Circus World Museum. Despite being thin with visible hip bones, Nina was not seen by a veterinarian and was forced to continue giving rides and performing with the other animals.
In 2017, an elephant from Carson & Barnes Circus escaped Circus World Baraboo after another elephant used her trunk to unlock the barn door. The elephant wandered through town for about 20 minutes before police notified the museum of her escape.
This year, the three elephants forced to give rides and perform at Circus World Museum are Viola, Libby and Bunny. Meet the elephants who have been suffering under human dominance for more than 40 years:
Viola is an Asian elephant that was captured from the wild and owned by Carson & Barnes Circus who leases her out to other circuses. In 2010, Viola escaped during a performance and fell down an embankment. She was injured in the incident, sustaining a cracked toenail and an inflamed shoulder. She was recaptured 30 minutes later.
In 2011, video shows elephant trainer John Walker III hooking Viola inside her ear and dragging her around the circus ring while she bellowed in pain. Carson & Barnes Circus was fined $15,000 by the USDA for the abuse.
In 2014, Carson & Barnes Circus was fined for watering the elephants in an area with direct access to the public after a child was photographed standing directly behind Viola.
During a different show in 2014, Viola and two other elephants were spooked by a noise, escaped from their handlers, pushed open a door and exited into a parking lot. The elephants sustained lacerations and abrasions and two cars were damaged during the incident.
In 2018, video shows elephant handler Anthony Frisco with Garden Bros Circus repeatedly hitting Viola with a bull hook.
Libby is an Asian elephant captured from the wild and leased from Carson & Barnes Circus. A photo taken of Libby at Circus World in 2016 shows a large growth near her hip. In 2017, a veterinarian for PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) observed Libby at a performance and said she appeared to be in physical pain and emotional distress. The vet suspected Libby had painful joints, possibly caused by arthritis, and chipped toenails.
Bunny is an Asian elephant captured from the wild, separated from her family and leased from Carson & Barnes Circus. In 2007, Bunny was performing with Garden Bros Circus when she escaped from her enclosure along with two other elephants. She was eventually found in a residential neighborhood.
In 2008 and 2009, Bunny performed with Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey. In 2009, Bunny also performed with Hadi Shrine Circus, with handler Anthony Frisco, who was later videotaped abusing elephants.
In 2016, the USDA cited Carson & Barnes for failing to provide veterinary care to Bunny who appeared to have an injured right front leg.
Although the age of Libby, Bunny and Viola is unclear, based on the age of all of the other wild caught elephants at Carson & Barnes, the elephants are probably somewhere between 46-56 years old.
The aging elephants are forced to perform in the sweltering hot big top tent twice a day, seven days a week, all summer long. In between performances, they’re made to give rides under fear of being hooked with an ankus. The elephants often carry more than 700lbs at a time. The added weight causes spinal conditions and exacerbates arthritis.
"Elephant's backs are not designed for riding," Lovett said. "Their spines protrude upward. The weight on their backs would cause pain. After being used for years for riding, elephants develop muscular atrophy and arthritis."
In a photo posted to Facebook, Circus World Museum Performance Director and Ringmaster Dave SaLoutos "thanks Libby and Bunny for another splendid presentation under the big top."
The kindest and most meaningful way to thank the elderly elephants is to retire them to a true sanctuary instead of exploiting them for money.
The animals in traveling circuses suffer from health, behavioral and psychological problems, according to Animal Defenders International (ADI), an animal welfare organization pushing for legislation that would ban circus cruelty in the United States.
ADI has deemed May 19, 2021 the Traveling Exotic Animal & Public Safety Protection Act (TEAPSPA) Day of Action. TEAPSPA would restrict the use of wild animals in circuses and other traveling animal acts in the US. 48 other countries have already put restrictions on circuses and traveling animal acts.
ADI said the act would “enable the US to catch up and end the suffering of animals who currently live most of their lives in cages on trailers, driven from town to town, never knowing basic freedoms, and enduring physical abuse to control them.”