Val, a small Asian Elephant, performs during a previous show of the Cole Brothers Circus of the Stars Monday evening at the Phillipsburg Mall. (Express-Times Photo | MATT SMITH)
By Sarah Peters, The Express Times
May 18, 2013
An animal rights group is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate the treatment of two young elephants due to perform Monday in Warren County with the Cole Bros. Circus.
In Defense of Animals, a nonprofit based in San Rafael, Calif., claims two elephants, Hugo and Val, traveling with the circus were taken from their mother at too young an age, causing them stress. The group also alleges that Hugo was confined alone in a trailer overnight.
The Cole Bros. Circus is set for performances Monday and Tuesday at the Phillipsburg Mall. Renee Storey, vice president of administration for Cole Bros., said an expert veterinarian supervises the elephants' care, and the elephants are monitored by the USDA.
"We know that these elephants have the best of care. They are healthy. They are happy," Storey said Friday.
The elephants' happiness is evident at circus performances and the behind-the-scenes day, when the public is invited to watch Cole Bros. set up on opening day at 6:30 or 7 a.m. Monday, she said.
The elephants are leased to Cole Bros. from the Byrd family, which operates the Carson & Barnes Circus, said Barbara Byrd. Byrd, who is vice president of Carson & Barnes, said the elephants are healthy and the USDA conducts inspections on a regular basis.
Byrd said trusted handlers are with the elephants whenever they're traveling, and they keep detailed files on each elephant.
The USDA says it cited Carson & Barnes Circus on July 26, 2012, for 10 violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including failing to properly maintain fences and failing to provide appropriate shelter from inclement weather, which it said occurred between May 2010 and April 2012.
The Animal Welfare Act requires licensed exhibits to provide all animals with adequate care in areas that include housing, handling, transportation, nutrition and protection from the weather, according to Lyndsay Cole, assistant director of public affairs for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Unannounced compliance inspections of facilities housing the animals occur at least once every year and can occur more frequently if needed, according to Cole.
Deb Robinson, In Defense of Animals circus specialist, said the group hopes the two young elephants are removed from the road. The life of a touring elephant would be "extremely stressful," she said.
"The confinement that would be required for them to travel around with a circus is so unnatural that there's no way they can appropriately have elephants traveling with the circus in a way that doesn't damage the elephants," Robinson said.
Byrd disagreed. She said circus elephants lead fairly average lives. They're watched over by a lot of handlers and government entities, she said.
"We want them to be healthy and happy," Byrd said. "That's our goal."