Washington Can’t Ignore This Elephant in the Room

Published by Jennifer O'Connor.

Dozens of people from all over the country—including advocates from Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—converged on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to call out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) complete inaction in helping lame and hurting elephants. Dressed in gray, participants formed one big elephant.

USDA Elephant Demo Photo by Leigh Vogel

USDA Elephant Demo 2PETA/Leigh Vogel

All across the country, elephants with debilitating, painful, and life-threatening arthritis and other medical conditions are being hauled around and forced to perform tricks and give rides. And the USDA has done nothing to stop it.

Arthritis is one of the leading reasons why captive elephants are euthanized, and it develops as a direct result of standing on hard surfaces for prolonged periods and being forced to perform unnatural, grueling tricks. As experts have advised the USDA, some of the elephants who are currently on the road with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus suffer from this painful disease. USDA inspectors have even noted that elephants traveling with Ringling have “gait abnormalities involving stiffness,” which constant traveling and performing can only make worse—but the agency has taken no action to remove these animals from the road.

Karen and Nicole are both struggling with arthritis, and at least four of the elephants currently used by Ringling Bros., including Rudy and Kelly Ann—as well as Karen and Nicole—are suffering from other painful and potentially fatal chronic foot problems. Some of these conditions have persisted for years because Ringling continues to force these animals to travel and perform, preventing them from ever completely healing. The USDA has received numerous expert reports about these elephants, yet the agency hasn’t taken any action in their behalf.


Recent video footage shows that an elephant named Nosey, who’s being exhibited by Hugo Liebel and forced to perform and give rides, has been lame for months. PETA has repeatedly asked the USDA to take immediate action to help her—but Nosey is still on the road. Elephant expert and veterinarian Dr. Philip Ensley called Nosey’s situation the “worst, most prolonged, documented example of an uncorrected case of suffering and abuse in an elephant” that he has ever reviewed. Nosey is in critical condition, requiring immediate veterinary care and relocation to a facility that can attend to her special needs.

What You Can Do

Please let the USDA’s inspector general know that the agency is abdicating its responsibilities. Demand that the agency confiscate Nosey, send her to a reputable sanctuary, and revoke Liebel’s exhibitor’s license.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind