Animal Behaviorist’s Report Shows Shrine Circus Animals’ Fear, Neglect, and Abuse

PETA Says Shriners Must Switch to Non-Animal Fundraisers After Video Shows Elephant Struck in the Face, Use of Whips, and Other Abuses

For Immediate Release:
March 1, 2018

David Perle 202-483-7382

Tampa, Fla.

A new 68-page report released today from well-known animal-behavior expert and wildlife consultant Jay Pratte documents that there was environmental and physiological neglect, psychological abuse, and coercion of animals through dominance and fear at Shrine circuses produced by James Cristy Cole Circus. In response, PETA has sent the report today—along with a video showing handler Brian Franzen striking an elephant named Megu in the jaw with a bullhook while she was lying down—to Tampa-based Shriners International. PETA also sent a letter calling on the organization to switch to cruelty-free fundraisers at all Shrine temples.

“Years of violence, threats, and barren backstage cages have meant pain, fear, and psychological suffering for the animals forced to perform in Shrine circuses,” says PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews. “PETA is calling on Shriners International to stop clinging to these outdated, cruel, and indefensible displays.”

Pratte’s report notes that handlers used prods and whips to force big cats to perform or move. One cat was jabbed in the face repeatedly during a performance, and Franzen told Pratte that trainers spray a mixture of cayenne pepper and water into the animals’ nostrils and eyes when they don’t do what the trainers want. Similarly, the elephant handlers kept short, sharpened rods tucked in their pockets and used the weapons to subtly threaten and jab the animals into obeying without being noticed by circus spectators.

When not onstage, the elephants are locked in what Pratte describes as “a glorified garage.” All three elephants are overweight and show signs of psychological distress, such as constant swaying back and forth. According to Shrine event staff and animal handlers, both tigers and bears were housed “outside and away from where anyone can see anything.” This concealment apparently came as a response to the backlash against the circus as a result of the video released by PETA (whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”) showing a bear at the Tangier Shrine Circus urinating in apparent distress.

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