Carson & Barnes Circus Caught Giving Illegal Elephant Rides; PETA Urges Feds to Strip License

For Immediate Release:
December 12, 2023

David Perle 202-483-7382

Hugo, Okla.

Locally based Carson & Barnes Circus has run afoul of the law after providing and handling two elephants, Viola and Kelly, in March for Jordan World Circus in Reno, Nevada, where it forced them to give rides in violation of a Nevada state law explicitly forbidding direct contact between a dangerous wild animal—including elephants—and members of the public. So this morning, PETA fired off a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging the agency to strip Carson & Barnes of its federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) license, which it may do anytime the licensee violates state laws pertaining to animals.

Nevada’s Washoe County Regional Animal Services issued Jordan World Circus a warning for the violation following a complaint from PETA. Because Jordan World Circus hasn’t held an AWA license since 2007, the illegal elephant rides fall under Carson & Barnes’ license.

elephants dressed in costumes forced to give rides to humans at a circus provided by Carson & Barnes

Carson & Barnes elephants are forced to give rides at a Jordan World Circus event in Texas. Credit: PETA

“Carson & Barnes has shown just as much disregard for the law as it has for the well-being of the aging, ailing elephants it drags from town to town and forces to perform under threat of violence,” said PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Welfare Debbie Metzler. “PETA urges the USDA to hold Carson & Barnes accountable and move swiftly to terminate its license.”

PETA has documented Viola’s suffering for decades. The elderly elephant has escaped from Carson & Barnes twice, in 2010 and 2014. In 2021, a PETA investigation revealed that Viola was being forced to perform grueling tricks seven days a week despite having chronically swollen feet and signs of other ailments impacting her rear legs. The group notes that foot problems and arthritis are painful and can be deadly to elephants, yet they’re common among captive elephants like Viola and Kelly, who are chained and forced to perform tricks and give rides.

Carson & Barnes has been cited for more than 100 violations of the AWA—including for failing to provide animals with basic necessities such as veterinary care, the minimum space required, shelter from the elements, and clean water. Trainers have also been caught on video violently striking elephants with a bullhook—a sharp weapon resembling a fireplace poker—and shocking them with an electric prod.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information on PETA’s investigative newsgathering and reporting, please visit, listen to The PETA Podcast, or follow the group on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, or Instagram.

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