Barack, the baby Asian elephant, wasn’t even 1 year old when he made his Ringling “debut” last month. Now Barack has been removed from traveling with the circus, and PETA has confirmed that he has contracted a herpes virus infection that may cost him his life. Death from the herpes virus usually occurs within seven days after an acute onset of symptoms that include lethargy, swelling of the head and limbs, and a blue discoloration of the tongue. This frightening disease typically affects elephants under 10 years of age and has an 80 percent mortality rate among captive, Asian elephants.
Stress may be a factor in the development of this virus, which has killed 20 percent of captive-born Asian elephant calves in North American facilities since 2000. Putting Barack on the road to perform in the circus at such a tender age was surely a stressful experience, and we’re asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate and, if appropriate, to pursue charges if the agency determines that Ringling violated regulations for handling or veterinary care.
Prior to performances, Barack was led around by rope restraints on his trunk and legs, and during performances he was forced to climb a pedestal while surrounded by trainers carrying bullhooks—weapons resembling fireplace pokers that are used for striking, stabbing, hooking, prodding, and intimidating elephants. Before the circus took Barack off the road, he reportedly became spooked and trampled his trainer, who has been seen in recent weeks wearing a brace on his right leg, presumably as a result of injuries he sustained when Barack ran amok.
If Barack survives the herpes virus, he doesn’t have much to look forward to. When he’s around 18 months of age, he will likely be pulled away from his mother and subjected to violent training sessions, as depicted in our recent exposé. These fear-based and abusive training methods have contributed to the deaths of two baby elephants: One fled his bullhook-wielding trainer and drowned in a pond, and the other broke both hind legs after falling off a training pedestal. Other baby elephants have also died at Ringling.
Speak up for Barack and all the other baby elephants abused by Ringling by contacting the USDA and asking the agency to investigate.
Written by Logan Scherer