Whistleblower: Animals Beaten Bloody, Starved at Garden Bros. Circus

Published by Zachary Toliver.

A whistleblower has contacted PETA to expose years of abuse and neglect that he observed while working for the infamous Garden Bros. Circus. During our conversations, the former employee detailed numerous accounts of appalling treatment that animals at Garden Bros. suffered, often unseen by the public.

Electrocuted, Bloody, and Left in a Truck for Days

The former employee recalled how Carson & Barnes Circus (Garden’s elephant supplier) handler Habib Omar would “warm up” the elephants Libby and Bunny by jabbing them with a bullhook or by shocking them with a Taser before they took the stage. The whistleblower figured that these electric shocks were used because this abuse wouldn’t cause visible bloodshed before a show.

The whistleblower described seeing elephants frequently drip blood from behind their ears during the show’s 2016 tour. In the same year, the former worker said, one of the elephants exhibited by Carson & Barnes handler Anthony Frisco became extremely sick and depressed. According to the whistleblower, she lay down for extended periods without getting up while another elephant watched and stood over her, making noises and stroking her with her trunk. Although the elephant was reportedly sick for days, not once did the whistleblower see a veterinarian examine her.

When the circus traveled with elephant exhibitor Brian Franzen, it used only one elephant, an Asian elephant named Okha, even though he had three elephants total, according to the former employee’s account. The whistleblower said that Franzen left the other two on the trailer continuously, sometimes for up to four or five days at a time. After days of confinement, they would come out of the truck covered in and smelling of feces. Franzen reportedly would lock up Okha in a truck for 20 to 21 hours every day.

Screaming Camels and Stupid Tricks

During an incident that occurred after a 2016 performance in Palm Beach, Florida, the former employee witnessed Hoosier Camel Encounter handler Evan Wall beat, punch, and kick a camel named Cash. The beating reportedly went on for 10 to 15 minutes, but no one made an effort to stop the abuse. The former employee reported that the camel howled so loudly from the blows that his cries could be heard on stage.

The whistleblower also recounted times that Wall would whip the camels’ feet—sometimes until they bled—in order to make the animals run faster when they entered the ring. The worker characterized circus manager Zack Garden’s instruction on handling camels as “really violent” but said that it was “circus courtesy” to ignore the animals’ suffering.

Earlier this year, PETA sent a video (posted by Animal Defenders International) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) of a llama named Poncho tripping and falling on his back after failing to jump over the humps of a camel.


The whistleblower told us that this fall occurred nearly every day. Eventually, the llama stopped attempting to do the stupid trick altogether. Around the same time that PETA submitted the video to the USDA, the exhibitor was cited after a handler repeatedly whipped the llama onstage when the animal refused to perform a trick, causing him or her to become distressed and spit at the handler.

Also in early 2017, the circus traveled with a baby buffalo named Tatonka who was reportedly never taken off the truck except for when he was used in the show’s finale for a few brief minutes. The whistleblower recalled that handlers would drag the terrified calf into the show ring by a rope attached to a ring through his septum—so that even the slightest pressure on the rope would inflict pain. The whistleblower noted that the buffalo was very vocal while imprisoned inside the truck and while being dragged around by the nose ring (as PETA previously documented in video footage submitted to the USDA).

According to the whistleblower, when Tatonka refused to walk, the handler would scream at him and use all his weight to pull on the rope attached to the calf’s nose. When the buffalo finally got into the ring, he would get scared and run in circles.

Eventually, Tatonka and Poncho were reportedly given away to a traveling petting zoo, where they’ll continue to be imprisoned and denied anything that resembles a natural life.

Starved, Dead Alligators

We know that Garden Bros. Circus is about as sleazy as it gets, so it’s no surprise that the disgraceful circus would allow encounters with wild animals. According to the whistleblower, some workers were allowed to use alligators and snakes for photo encounters in order to make some cash on the side.

The whistleblower reported that in 2016, the circus generally had two or three alligators at a time to use as photo props and would keep them backstage in a plastic crate with no water and with their mouths taped shut. The whistleblower was told that the food for these animals was restricted to keep them from growing too large. They reportedly often died after only two weeks, but new alligators would be shipped in. The former employee noted that Garden Bros. also allowed various other employees to offer encounters with snakes who were often bought under shady circumstances from places like Craigslist.

What You Can Do

PETA has filed a complaint with the USDA based on conversations with the former employee of Garden Bros., but this new evidence only reaffirms what all decent people already know—that imprisoning and exploiting animals for human entertainment is inherently violent. Right now, everyone can help by demanding that Garden Bros.—and all circuses—eliminate acts involving animals.

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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