- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A circus scheduled to perform in Leonardtown this week has agreed to pay $15,000 to resolve allegations that it mistreated its elephants.
The Cole Brothers Circus of the Stars is coming to the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds on Wednesday and Thursday.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed two complaints with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2006 and 2007 regarding two elephants that had lost weight. The USDA filed its charges in 2011 and Cole Brothers is to pay the $15,000 fine to settle the charges with the federal government by the end of this year.
The settlement was made “without a finding of violations,” said Renee Story, vice president of administration for Cole Brothers, based in Florida.
The consent decision and order states the circus and its president “neither admit nor deny the remaining allegations.”
According to PETA, two circus elephants, Tina and Jewell, were “critically emaciated” and were deprived of adequate veterinarian care, said Carney Anne Chester, an attorney with the PETA Foundation.
In the wild, Asian elephants weigh about 10,000 pounds. Captive elephants tend to weigh more. Jewell was down to 6,700 pounds and Tina was at 7,800 pounds, Chester said.
“They had very serious weight loss in the span of a year,” she said. According to a USDA inspection, Jewell lost 740 pounds and Tina lost 540 pounds.
“This is the pattern, the disregard for animal welfare,” Chester said.
The two elephants were confiscated by the federal government and now live at the Los Angeles Zoo, she said.
Elephants are trained to do tricks in a circus by “the constant threat of punishment,” she said. “If you care at all about animals, please do not attend a circus that abuses them.”
“They are sending this to all the media in each town,” Story said, before the circus arrives. “Cole Brothers is very proud of our record of level of care.”
Visitors are free to take a look at the animals in each town when they are setting up for a show, Story said.
“The animal workers are professional. They put the welfare of the animals ahead of their own needs,” she said. “The circus is very family-oriented. We feel strongly the animals receive wonderful care.”
Cole Bros. has six elephants and 14 tigers traveling this year. From March to November, the circus plays at between 90 and 100 stops along the East Coast, working seven days a week.
Circus animals are bred from captive animals. They are not captured in the wild and put into service, Story said.
“You can’t train an animal to do something unnatural,” she said. “The tigers work for treats” — meat. The elephants, “they like bread. They like watermelons,” she said.
The elephants are prodded into action with a bull hook, which resembles a fireplace poker, according to PETA.
“We hope to raise consciousness about how endangered the animals are” in the wild, Story said. Seeing the animals in person raises awareness about their dwindling numbers in the wild, she added.