Skip to Main Content

Tell the USDA to Revoke License of Notorious Animal Abuser Hawthorn Corp.!

The notorious Hawthorn Corporation, which is owned by John Cuneo, has one of the most sordid histories of animal abuse and neglect in the circus industry. For two decades, its egregious violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) have continued undeterred despite more than 100 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) citations for AWA violations, including failing to provide animals with proper veterinary care, denying animals adequate space for months on end, failing to provide animals with adequate nutrition, and physical abuse of animals. In fact, Hawthorn was the subject of the USDA’s first elephant confiscation in U.S. history. The USDA seized an elephant named Delhi from Hawthorn and ordered Hawthorn to relinquish 16 additional elephants after finding Delhi in imminent danger because of untreated chemical burns she sustained after Hawthorn forced her to stand in undiluted formaldehyde. The USDA took a number of additional enforcement actions against Hawthorn—resulting in license suspensions and more than a quarter of a million dollars in fines—which have proved to be entirely ineffective at deterring Hawthorn from continuing to flagrantly neglect and abuse animals.

In fact, shortly after PETA submitted its revocation request to the USDA, urging the agency to take meaningful action against Hawthorn and revoke its exhibitor license without further delay, a whistleblower came forward and reported observations of Hawthorn’s unabated animal abuse and neglect as well as other apparent violations of federal law in a sworn affidavit. Among many violations, the whistleblower reported observing a Hawthorn training session during which tigers were heavily whipped, including on their faces, and jabbed with long wooden rods. The whistleblower reported that tigers with open, bleeding wounds were denied veterinary care on at least two occasions. The whistleblower’s testimony also describes tigers to live in tiny, urine-soaked enclosures, meat intended for tiger consumption being regularly allowed to sit out and become infested with flies, and tigers being left outside for hours in near freezing weather, with no protection from the cold.

Additionally, the whistleblower reported that Hawthorn continues to illegally contract with unlicensed exhibitor Lance Ramos—another serial animal abuser and AWA violator, whose license was revoked in 2009 for numerous serious AWA violations, including using physical abuse to train exotic cats to the point that at least one lion died.

Cuneo, Hawthorn, Ramos should never be allowed to exhibit animals again. Please join PETA in urging the USDA to revoke Hawthorn’s license and permanently disqualify Cuneo and his employees and agents from obtaining a USDA license, and to seek criminal charges against Cuneo and Ramos.

Please also share this important information with your family and friends.

Please send a polite e-mail to Ramona Romero, USDA general counsel (at, and urge her to ensure that the USDA revokes Hawthorn’s exhibitor license and seeks criminal charges.

Please feel free to use our sample letter, but remember that using your own words is always more effective.