30 April 2010

Circus elephant escape prompts federal complaint from IDA

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” An elephant named Viola made a fast getaway from the Cole Bros. Circus in Lynchburg, Va. Tuesday night after being spooked by a rabbit. The incident has prompted animal rights organization In Defense of Animals (IDA) to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“In Defense of Animals is calling on the USDA to immediately bar Cole Bros. Circus from using Viola for performances or giving rides until this matter can be fully investigated and her health status evaluated,” said Catherine Doyle, IDA elephant campaign director. “It is a matter of both public safety and animal welfare. The USDA should not allow such an easily startled elephant to perform or be in contact with the public as she is likely to escape again, with potentially disastrous consequences.”

Apparently Viola was confused by her new surroundings and while making a mad dash away from the rabbit she took a wrong turn. Before being captured she slipped on muddy ground and fell into a ditch, the fall caused injuries to her shoulder and broke one of her toe nails.

"What happened was she got spooked which can happen. She saw a rabbit jumped out in front of her. She turned around. She wanted to run home,” Cole Bros. Vice President of Operations Elvin Bale told WSET ABC 13. “We're in a whole different area and a different setup today. So she got confused and went the wrong way."

Although no one was injured during the ordeal, the event has brought the ongoing issue of elephant confinement to the forefront of animal rights once again.

Since 1990, at least 14 human deaths and 120 human injuries have been directly linked to elephants.

“Elephants performing and giving rides in the circus are wild animals under incredible stress due to brutal training and harsh, completely unnatural living conditions,” said Doyle. “This dangerous incident is yet another reminder of why elephants should not be in circuses.”

In the wild elephants can cover up to 50 miles in one day but according to IDA in circuses they "spend their lives in chains and the tight confinement of trucks and trains while transported around the country. Training is violent, relying on fear and physical punishment imposed with the bullhook, a steel-tipped weapon similar to a fireplace poker that is used to prod, stab, strike and threaten elephants.”

Regardless of the pain and duress the animals must endure, the show must go on. The Cole Bros. Circus will make its next stop in Winchester, Va.

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Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/geoftheref