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Ex–UniverSoul Circus Employee Blows the Whistle on Abuse of Big Cats, Elephants

PETA Calls On USDA to Investigate Allegations of Physical Abuse, Neglect

For Immediate Release:
November 6, 2013

Contact:
David Perle 202-483-7382

Atlanta — Based on a former UniverSoul Circus employee’s sworn affidavit, PETA has submitted a formal complaint asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate allegations of chronic abuse and neglect of the elephants, tigers, and cougar used for UniverSoul Circus. The whistleblower reported that elephants were routinely struck with bullhooks—clubs with a sharp steel hook on the end—and big cats were kept locked in cramped cages and never provided with access to exercise pens, among other violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). PETA is requesting that if the allegations are confirmed, the USDA take all appropriate enforcement action against UniverSoul, Jorge and Louann Barreda (who supply the elephant act), and Mitchel Kalmanson (who supplies the big-cat act). PETA has also filed a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging that, according to the whistleblower, tiger attacks in 2012 resulted in the partial loss of two employees’ fingers.

“For years, UniverSoul and its exhibitors have been synonymous with animal suffering,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Delcianna Winders. “Their despicable—and often illegal—routine abuse of elephants and big cats must be stopped, and the USDA can do just that.”

Between April and July 2013 alone, the USDA cited Kalmanson—a chronic violator of the AWA—during multiple inspections for failing to care for a limping tiger properly, failing to provide big cats with adequate space, and putting a tiger at risk of strangulation by leaving a chain dangling from the animal’s neck.

The affidavit states that the elephants provided by the Barredas are kept chained by one leg at all times when not performing. According to the whistleblower, all the elephants exhibit constant swaying and dramatic head-bobbing—signs of severe stress. The testimony also says that the elephants were regularly struck with bullhooks in the most sensitive parts of their bodies. 

For more information, please visit PETA’s blog.

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