Circus World calls PETA’s latest complaint ‘insulting’

September 13, 2016 GMT

PETA officials are encouraging people to avoid circuses that feature performing animals after a USDA inspection at Circus World in July found that one of its elephants appeared to have trouble walking.

The 48-year-old Asian elephant, Bunny – who was subcontracted by Carson and Barnes to perform at Circus World for the summer – appeared to have a limited range of motion in her right front limb, according to the USDA inspection report released this month. It noted that she did not bend her right leg in a similar manner to her left, instead extending it in a “peg-like” fashion while walking.

The report said the actions were “intermittent” but could be suggestive of an underlying problem and recommended that Bunny be examined by a vet.

Debbie Metzler, a captive wildlife specialist for PETA, said circus workers failed to notice Bunny’s stiff gait even after PETA filed a complaint with the USDA about the issue in April.

“Carson and Barnes turns a blind eye to animal suffering,” she said. “That’s why PETA is asking everyone to stay away from Carson and Barnes and all circuses that exploit animals.”

Following the USDA inspection, Kurt Sladky, a professor of Zoological Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, was brought in to examine Bunny, but he found little wrong with the elephant.

In a letter to Kay Backues, a vet who looks after Bunny in Oklahoma, Sladky noted that the elephant appeared “bright, alert and responsive to our presence and movements.” Sladky said he did not observe Bunny favoring one leg over the other but recommended that radiographs be taken of her right and left limbs for comparison. “But this is not urgent and could be completed when she is back in Oklahoma,” he concluded.

Circus World Executive Director Scott O’Donnell said the allegations of animal mistreatment are part of a campaign that PETA launches each summer against Carson and Barnes and Circus World.

“It happens every few months where a press release will come out with incendiary language, meant to inflame a conversation because it fits their point of view,” O’Donnell said. “It borders on harassment of an institution.”

While he finds the approach frustrating, O’Donnell said he feels he understands the group’s motives.

“When they do stuff like this, and they get the press that they do, it helps their cause from a fundraising point of view,” he said. “They can go back to their donors and say, ‘Hey we said this, and it was covered in this press, and we’re doing good things for animals.’”

O’Donnell said Circus World and contractors who operate on the grounds provide proper veterinary care for the site’s animals.

“To say that we would not provide proper veterinary care is insulting,” he said.