I request that the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival reconsider the decision to include the Cole Brothers Circus at the festival. This circus has a horrible history of animal abuse and neglect, and of violating federal laws intended to protect animals.
As recently as February 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the Cole Brothers Circus and its president, John Pugh, had pled guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act for unlawfully selling two Asian elephants. The two long-suffering elephants were confiscated by the USDA in 2009. Mr. Pugh was sentenced to three years probation, 100 hours of community service and over $5,000 in fines. The Cole Brothers Circus was ordered to pay a $150,000 fine.
Violent, physical abuse remains a common method of training and controlling elephants and other animals in the circus. In 2010, the Cole Brothers Circus traveled with several elephants under the control of trainer Tim Frisco. Mr. Frisco is infamous for undercover video footage that captured him beating elephants with bull hooks and shocking them with electric prods. In the video, Frisco is heard instructing other elephant trainers to, “Hurt â€˜em! Make â€˜em scream! â€¦ Sink that hook into â€˜em â€¦ When you hear the screaming, then you know you got their attention!”
In 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Cole Brothers, after a handler struck an elephant repeatedly with a broom handle. In 2000, USDA inspectors noted that two Cole Brothers elephants had bull hook scars. In 1999, the USDA charged Cole Brothers with violating the Animal Welfare Act; USDA undersecretary Michael Dunn stated, “We believe that on numerous occasions, employees of the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus abusively used an elephant hook on several animals.”
Elephants and other wild animals used in circuses can be a public safely risk. In April 2010, an adult elephant with the Cole Brothers Circus escaped from her handlers during a stop in Lynchburg, Virginia. The elephant ran past a line of spectators waiting to buy tickets, and was eventually recaptured only after falling into a ditch. In 1995 in Forest Park, Queens, two female elephants broke free during a performance injuring 12 patrons. These two elephants were seen being beaten on the head prior to a performance 2 months earlier in a different location.
The Cole Brothers Circus began its 2010 tour with a group of big cats illegally exhibited by handlers who did not possess a USDA license for the dangerous animals; the agency denied them a license due to lack of expertise. In July 2010, the USDA ordered the circus to stop using unlicensed handlers to show the tiger act.
During the Cole Brothers Circus 2007 tour, the USDA ordered that two elephants be taken off the road due to “an alarming amount of weight loss” and other health concerns. Cole Brothers has repeatedly refused to retire aging elephants, even when it is obvious that they are suffering from painful arthritis or other captivity-induced health problems (conditions linked to prolonged chaining and lack of proper exercise.)
Please choose a non-animal circus for the Apple Blossom Festival. There are many circuses, including Cirque du Soleil, The New Pickle Circus, Circus Oz, and Cirque Eloize that do not use animals but offer clowns, trapeze artists, jugglers and other talented human performers. Circuses with animals do not teach children about the natural behaviors of wild animals; they only teach children that we can confine and dominate over animals.
Jo Bighouse is the owner of Midas Touch “A Unique Health Food Store For You And Your Pets” located in Berryville, Virginia