The Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey circus, The CRUELEST Show on Earth, came to Colorado Springs' Broadmoor World Arena, owned by Phillip Anschutz this past week with their bullhooks, whips, cages, cattle prods, ankus, stun guns and other weapons of torture.
For years, animal rights organizations had been releasing horrific undercover videos showing Ringling trainers abusing elephants, but USDA investigations never produced evidence that officials deemed strong enough to warrant action.
Until 1998; then there was a dead elephant.
The agency had just fined the King Royal Circus, a small family operation, $200,000 for allowing an elephant to die in an overheated trailer of an untreated salmonella infection.
But after a few months, the USDA announced a settlement with Ringling.
Feld Entertainment would donate $20,000 to elephant causes.
In return, the agency absolved the company of blame for Kenny's death and further declared, "Ringling Bros. has never been adjudged to have violated the Animal Welfare Act."
Despite years of denials, Kenneth Feld has now admitted under oath that his trainers routinely "correct" elephants by hitting them with bullhooks, whipping them, and on occasion using electric prods. He even admitted to witnessing it.
Feld Entertainment is a privately held corporation owned by CEO Kenneth Feld, whose family bought Ringling for more than $8 million in 1967 and folded it into an entertainment empire that includes Ringling's three year-round touring circus troupes, as well as Disney On Ice, Disney Live, and Monster Jam.
They claim to "own" 50 endangered Asian elephants.
The elephants are lame from balancing their 8,000-pound frames on tiny tubs and from being confined in cramped spaces, sometimes for days at a time.
They are afflicted with tuberculosis and herpes, potentially deadly diseases rare in the wild and linked to captivity.
Barack, a calf born on the eve of the president's inauguration, had to leave the tour in February (2011) for emergency treatment of herpes—the second time in a year.
Since Kenny's death, 3 more of the 23 baby elephants born in Ringling's vaunted breeding program have died, all under disturbing circumstances that weren't fully revealed to the public.
The USDA has only $16 million and 111 employees to monitor nearly 9,000 animal entertainment, breeding, and research facilities.
Kenneth H. Vail, who for decades served as the USDA's lead legal counsel on animal welfare cases said, "If I were an elephant, I wouldn't want to be with Feld Entertainment".
"It's a tough life."
Circuses cannot meet the physical, psychological or behavioral needs of wild animals, due to severe confinement, physical and social deprivation, long periods of time in transporters, with brutal control methods and physical violence.
Animals are forced to perform tricks through physical violence, fear, intimidation, emotional deprivation and withholding of food and/or water.
Workers and members of the public have been killed and maimed; lions, tigers and elephants have all escaped.