Beaten, chained, passed from one owner to the next: the sad lives of Boo and Krissy – the elephants the USDA left behind.
On August 22, 2009 we were delighted as circus elephants Tina and Jewel were confiscated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Leggett, Texas. They were taken to San Diego Zoo. The elephants were owned by the notorious Wil (Wilbur) Davenport.
Tragically the elephant Boo (also known as Queenie) who ADI met during our investigation of US circuses was left behind – chained to a tree. Davenport surrendered his USDA exhibitor’s license. And just a few miles away Boo’s one time companion, Krissy, remained with the Swain family. (Boo and Krissy, pictured above).
ADI is fighting on behalf of Krissy and Boo, and urging the USDA to take action.
On October 26, 2009, The USDA filed formal charges against Wilbur Davenport for multiple violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The charges state that “the gravity of the violations alleged…is great” and that Davenport has “not shown good faith” in his repeated unwillingness to comply with AWA regulations. The charges include:
- Defying federal officials. Three counts of abusing and harassing USDA/APHIS officials, including refusal to give federal officers access to animals and facilities.
- Seven counts of failure to provide minimal veterinary care to the elephants between March 2008 and August 2009, including failures to provide appropriate tests, vaccinations and to keep records of life-threatening weight loss that was documented, chronic and visible.
- Failing to handle elephants safely and humanely: Four counts, including an incident in Indianapolis when all three elephants were used to give rides and one elephant (Boo) and 13 people, many of them children, were injured.
- Failing to abide by welfare standards: Five counts of violating the minimum standards of the AWA including failure to protect the elephants from extreme temperatures and failure to provide food of sufficient quantity and nutritive value.
Under the AWA, penalties of up to $2500 for each day of each violation can be assessed against Davenport, and consideration is to be given to the gravity of these violations and to his failure to show compliance – good faith. Interfering with the duties of federal officials, as Davenport is alleged to have done, can result in up to three years of imprisonment.
An ADI field officer first met Asian elephant Boo (who has also been known as Baby Ruth and Queenie) and African elephant Krissy/Chris (both names are used) in 2004; Boo was then 35 years old and Krissy about 20 years old.
At that time, Mike Swain (who does business as Progressive Pachyderms) claimed that he owned Boo. He told our field officer that Krissy was owned by his father, Bill Swain, who does business as Trunks and Humps.
Mike Swain was touring that year with Bailey Brothers Circus, and our field officer worked alongside him for two months filming and recording how the elephants lived.
During the day, the elephants lived in a small electric fenced enclosure and at night (from about 9.30pm) were chained inside the trailer. Typically, they were unshackled and let out of their semi/trailer about mid-morning, after spending the night for about 13 hours chained with no water. Mid-afternoon they would be prepared for elephant rides and then the show. The elephants were chained at least 54% of the time. Whenever Mike Swain left the site or was inside his trailer (usually every day for two to four hours), Krissy would be chained to the semi by a leg due to her repeated attempts to escape. This chain was only 2½ feet long, severely restricting her movements.
When the circus moved on, the elephants spent excessive periods of time stuck in the trailer. They would be moved out at about 6am (still in the semi from the previous night); they remained chained in the trailer for the duration of the journey; then on arrival they waited in the trailer a further 2-3 hours while the site was set up.
On one occasion, they spent the whole day inside the trailer traveling to a Hindu festival to give rides. A couple of days later, they traveled from Austin to Kansas and did not leave the trailer for the entire day. They had been out of the trailer for only six of the previous 72 hours, and that had been to give rides at the festival. The next day, the elephants were driven to Butler, Missouri and were not let out of their trailer until noon. Krissy was immediately chained up outside and was unchained only for the afternoon show.
When the trailer door was not secured properly during the day she would bang on it with her trunk. Krissy often threw objects (hay, stones, feces, dirt, rubber dishes) at people, both circus workers and members of the public. She would often eat rubbish found in her enclosure, such as plastic and paper bags. When fed by the public she would snatch the plastic/paper bag containing the food and eat everything. Krissy frequently tried to escape, even dismantling the electric fence on several occasions (Swain thought she was becoming accustomed to the electric shock). She threw hay, grass and stones at people and had a reputation for aggression, cornering and pushing circus workers.
Elephants are designed to travel long distances each day, browse a variety of plants, and have a highly developed social structure. Keeping such large, powerful animals in temporary accommodations has a severe impact on their welfare, because they are constantly chained. In such confined and deprived conditions they literally go out of their minds. We call it circus madness.
ADI caught Mike Swain on video cruelly beating Krissy with a bullhook, dragging her to the ground with the hook, and then kicking her in the face as he screamed at her. Boo cowers next to her. Swain was also filmed hittting the elephants with a golf club and giving them electric shocks.
ADI presented our evidence to the USDA, but we were told in April 2009 that they would not be taking further action because Swain had told them that he did not currently own any elephants, nor was he currently handling any.
We therefore continued to track these two elephants. This year Krissy was back with Mike Swain’s father Bill doing elephant rides and Boo was performing for the Davenport family. And who had been running Bailey Brothers Circus where we filmed the savage abuse of the elephants? The Davenport family.
In 2007 and 2008, Boo/Queenie appeared with Tina and Jewel for the Davenports at Circus Vasquez (named Queenie for one year, Boo the next). In the 2009 season, she performed at Will Davenport’s Hamid (Midian Shrine) Circus. Will Davenport claims that Bill Swain, who sold her to Gopher (John) Davenport (aka John Lewis), previously owned Boo.
Krissy has continued to perform for the Swain family. In April, as the USDA told us he was no longer handling elephants, Mike Swain posed for a picture with Krissy – on her knees, a front leg raised in the air, with Mike Swain next to her holding a stick or bullhook and grinning at the camera.
We tracked the Swains this year and found Krissy giving elephant rides with two other elephants, Jean and another African elephant believed to be Nanda – all three of these poor animals were taken from the wild. When she wasn’t giving rides, she was chained up. And guess who is reported to have previously owned Krissy? John (Gopher) Davenport.
There is also evidence that Mike Swain has owned a 35-year old female African elephant called Spanky since 1996; the USDA needs to follow this up.
ADI has submitted a new dossier to the USDA on the Swains and the Davenports and their elephants, and we are insisting that a new investigation is launched.
You can help Krissy and Boo
Write to the USDA today:
Secretary of Agriculture,
U.S. Department of Agriculture,
1400 Independence Ave. S.W.,
Washington, DC 20250;
APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea:
- Thank them for protecting Tina and Jewel:
- Urge them to return to Leggett, Texas, and confiscate Boo/Queenie who is now living in isolation.
- Ask them to extend the USDA’s investigations to Bill Swain of Conroe and Mike Swain of Cut and Shoot, Texas, who regularly work with Davenport.
- Urge them to seize Krissy/Chris, Jean, Nanda, and Spanky.
- Remind them of the video of horrific abuse and deprivation Krissy and Boo/Queenie endured at the hands of Mike Swain in a circus run by the Davenports.
You can also Donate to ADI to help support our ongoing campaigns.