HOPE, Maine — An official with a national organization that considers it abusive to use any animals in circus acts also wonders about the wisdom of trying to treat an arthritic elephant in Maine.
“Bears, elephants, tigers and other animals do not voluntarily ride bicycles, stand on their heads, balance on balls, or jump through rings of fire,” states a website for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
These animals are forced to perform tricks by trainers who use whips, electric prods, bull hooks and other tools, according to PETA.
Among the worst offending circuses according to the animal rights organization are Ringling Bros. and Carson and Barnes Circus.
Carson and Barnes has agreed to send its 42-year-old elephant, Rosie, to live with Hope, Maine, veterinarian Jim Laurita, who wants to help develop new methods to treat elephant arthritis.
Many of the violations against the circus are for poor foot care or elephants getting loose in the community, but more egregious allegations include shocking the animals with electric prods, according to PETA, which has compiled a 29-year record of all allegations against the Oklahoma circus.
“Carson and Barnes’ Tim Frisco was caught on video [in 1999] viciously attacking elephants with bull hooks and shocking them with electric prods. We have the footage on our website and he encourages other trainers to sink bull hooks into their flesh. They had to pay a fine for violating the Animal Welfare Act,” said PETA director of captive animal law enforcement Delcianna Winders. “Sadly this is standard circus practice, the training documented at Carson and Barnes.”
The most recent violation against elephants by Carson and Barnes involved allowing several animals to stand out in cold rain in May last year. According to a USDA report, three elephants were kept outside in 50-degree rainy weather “with no protection,” which “provides a source of discomfort for the animals. The next day, the inspector found the three elephants in a 30-foot-by-30-foot pen, again without a shed or barn to run into. The elephants were held in with a fence made of two wires, which were not electrified and therefore were not sufficient to keep the animals in or people out, the USDA report states.
None of the violations were against Rosie the arthritic elephant.
The last USDA inspection was in January this year and no violations were found.
“The poor elephants in this country are in the middle of politics between PETA and the zoos and circuses. We want to stay right out of that,” Laurita said Friday. “We want to improve the situation of this one elephant.”
But Winders is worried about how Rosie will deal with Maine winters.
“We don’t know a lot about the planned facility, but we do have some concerns with the weather in Maine. It’s unsuitable for elephants,” Winders said. “Elephants in the wild walk 30 miles a day.”
Laurita plans to abide by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ recommendation that elephants in cold-weather climates have access to a heated shelter.
“[Elephants] are more flexible than most people think and can acclimatize to cold temperatures,” the association states on its website.
Laurita plans to build a 60-by-52 foot heated barn and a 1-acre paddock for the animal on a 3-acre piece of land in Hope where he will help treat Rosie’s arthritis.
Laurita expects to keep Rosie in Maine for the rest of her life, which he expects will be at least 20 years. He has no immediate plans to bring any other elephants to Maine.