US Representatives take USDA to task over “long-term abuse” of Nosey the elephant
ADI commends US Reps Raul M. Grijalva, Blumenauer, Brownley, Clay, Cohen, Conyers, Delaney, DeSaulnier, Ellison, Farr, Gallego, Grayson, Hastings, Honda, Johnson, Kirkpatrick, Lee, Lewis, Lieu, McDermott, McSally, Nadler, Napolitano, Norton, Price, Rangel, Roybal-Allard, Schakowsky, Schiff, Takano, Tonko, & Vargas, for defending Nosey, a long-suffering, decrepit, circus elephant. Last Friday, the representatives took USDA to task, citing “insufficient” evaluations where Nosey continues to tour despite “long-term abuse,” “serious, willful, chronic violations,” and “repeated noncompliance” in veterinary care, handling, housing, and husbandry.
Grijalva’s announcement cites vet reports finding Nosey in an ‘expressionless, dazed stupor…and in a state of mental numbness or psychological deterioration.’
There is no humane existence for wild animals in circuses. Per the latest Gallup poll, >2/3 of Americans are troubled by the plight of circus animals.
It’s time to reintroduce The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act.
Support TEAPA, so the US can join the 31 other countries who have recognized the inherent suffering and safety issues, and banned the use of wild animals in circuses nationwide. TEAPA is a narrowly tailored, proportional response to address the inordinate suffering of wild animals in circuses; it will also save taxpayer resources, streamline regulation, and protect people.
There is substantial and growing evidence that even with the best intentions traveling shows simply cannot provide what these animals need and unfortunately, there is a good deal of evidence that physical abuse and deprivation are all too common. These are and will remain wild animals. Domestication cannot be trained into an individual animal; it takes certain genotypes and many generations of breeding an entire population of animals, and even then some species cannot be domesticated. There is no conclusive evidence that wild animals habituate to travel and there’s no evidence that familiarity equates to security. Just this past June, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe issued their recommendation for a ban on wild animal circuses, agreeing that “there is by no means the possibility that their physiological, mental and social requirements can adequately be met” and noting “serious animal health and public health and safety risks,” as well as growing public opinion against this outdated industry.
Last year, an apparently well-regarded and experienced trainer was killed by an elephant while working in close physical contact. The trainer reportedly had a 30-year relationship with “his girls” – Opal and Rosie – two elephants in their forties who lived in the circus from the time they were taken from the wild in 1969 and 1970. His many years of experience training circus elephants, his later knowledge as a veterinarian working with elephants at the Bronx Zoo and as head elephant trainer at an Oregon safari park, and his reportedly close-knit bond and long-term relationship with Opal and Rosie were not enough to prevent his being crushed to death. Unfortunately, there are many reported incidents of worker deaths despite years working and familiarity with the animals. Opal and Rosie were also among those identified in a January 2015 inspection documenting inadequate veterinarian care, along with a pygmy hippo that died in 2014; another elephant identified in the report died a few months later in May 2015.
Traveling shows’ collapsible and temporary facilities raise serious public and worker safety and health concerns, and are not in keeping with the recommendations of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Workers and the public are often in close proximity to these wild animals with limited, if any, protective containment. Last year, the US Court of Appeals DC Circuit upheld a decision that an animal exhibitor employer violated the (general duty clause under the) Occupational Safety & Health Act by exposing animal trainers to recognized hazards despite the employer’s arguments its trainers were qualified, trained in safety procedures, and familiar with the mammal. (SeaWorld of Florida, LLC v. Perez, Secretary, US Dep’t of Labor, USCA Case number 12-1375 (2014).) In a similar case examining an employer’s general duties, OSHA settled with the Knoxville Zoo after the elephant trampling death of a trainer. OSHA also required the Knoxville Zoo replace its free contact management system with protective containment as part of the settlement agreement. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums subsequently required its members to do the same; the AZA 2012 Lion Care Manual also strongly recommends against free contact with adult lions “under any circumstances.”
Circus workers typically have limited if any species-specific training (save perhaps that related to circus tricks), and the local venue operators/workers may have no knowledge of the animals’ needs or history. Parents purchasing tickets for their children to take photos with tigers or to ride on an elephant’s back have no way of knowing the animal’s history, training, escape risk, stressors, anxiety level, triggers, injury, illness, or aggression. ADI released video of one elephant’s aggression to another and to her trainers during rehearsal. This elephant was giving rides to children later the same week; she also escaped last year along with 2 other elephants (reportedly still wearing their ride saddles). The circus denied it, but ADI was able to produce USDA documents verifying that these three elephants returned again this year to perform at the very same venue from which they’d escaped a year earlier – despite repeated ADI reports to the various OSHA jurisdictions around the nation warning of the elephants’ past incidents of escape and aggression.
It is foolish to expect animals living under severe stress, confinement, and abuse will never lash out or try to escape.
Federal oversight is costly, problematic, and unmanageable. Nominal licensing fees don’t cover the costs; they are largely borne by taxpayers. Oversight is difficult with the limited number of inspectors and the events’ transitory nature. (In 2009, APHIS/USDA had just 97 inspectors who performed over 4300 inspections of more than 2700 exhibitors.) The Office of Inspector General’s 2010 audit reports on APHIS note numerous inspector deficiencies including limited to no follow-up to noncompliance citations and failure to consult animal experts to determine if enclosures or barriers are sufficient to protect the public. Nosey’s handler has been the subject of numerous complaints citing Animal Welfare Act violations, including this 2013 USDA petition.
OSHA inspections generally rely upon self-reporting alone and often by the time a complaint or inspection request is made, the circus has moved on to another jurisdiction. It is not uncommon for the agencies to report their hands are tied once the circus leaves town. Regional, state, and local agencies don’t typically have the benefit of cross-jurisdictional communications or authority; not knowing the history of a particular circus or its animals leaves little context to frame a one-time likely expected look-see. All too often local authorities lacking familiarity or facilities to deal with exotic species defer upstream to federal agencies who nevertheless maintain public safety is not their mandate. For all practical purposes, no one is looking at public safety. When things do go awry, it’s the local first responders who are surprised to find that they are the ones left holding the bag.
“I have never seen a situation as frightening – or one I was less capable of controlling – than that day the elephant ran wild. The greatest shock to me as a police officer was when I discovered that the owner and trainer … had absolutely no control over her …. He had no plan for such an emergency and his only strategy was to keep yelling at me to shoot her. I have discovered that, once an elephant goes out of control, nothing can be done. It is not a predictable or preventable accident. The only thing that can be done – and even this is a danger to the public – is to get a battery of police officers in with heavy weapons and gun the elephant down.”
Florida police officer Blayne Doyle, testifying before Congress
Thirty-one nations and sixty local US jurisdictions (in 23 states) have instituted some form of ban or restriction on wild animals in circuses.
Banning the use of wild animals does not have to mean the end of the circus. There are more than 20 human-performance circuses in the US, including some who were once animal exhibitors. See also Forbes Magazine, The Richest People in America 2014 and The Wall Street Journal, Power Clown (2005) which quote major players in US circuses describing diversification away from “traditional” acts and identifying the primary economic driver in today’s circus as being the celebrity clown or “power clown” – not the animals. Ringling/ Barnum & Bailey just announced it will retire its traveling elephants by 2018 in response to changing public opinion, concern over the treatment of the elephants, and increasing local ordinances restricting wild animal acts. Recently as well, James Hamid (of Hamid Circus, the oldest single-family operated US circus) was quoted saying:
“Circuses must keep up with the modern audience. … As we look into the future, we see all circuses moving to non-animal productions. Over the last 20 years … changing public sentiment, performing animal acts have begun to be a thing of the past. So it’s up to creative minds to conceive new and entertaining all-human performances …”
Perhaps the most familiar human-performance circus to you may be Cirque du Soleil, which had its first show in 1990, and has now grown to a >$800 million enterprise, appearing 8 times in the top ranking international tours alongside such names as Madonna and Lady Gaga. Unlike the noted decline in animal circus attendance, these human-performance shows are proliferating worldwide. Human-performance circuses are popular; they require labor, create jobs, and can bring dollars to your area without exposing citizens to chronically stressed and abused animals.
The ADI Stop Circus Suffering and Federal Circus Bill websites include further briefings on the numerous animal welfare, worker safety, public health & safety, regulatory oversight, and economic issues associated with keeping wild animals in traveling performances. You will also find information there on the increasing numbers and success of human-performance circuses.
Other ways you can get involved