Church’s Cruel Use of Elephant, Big Cats in Christmas Show Under Fire

For Immediate Release:
December 10, 2014

Moira Colley 202-483-7382

Phoenix, Ariz.

Phoenix First church has partnered with notorious exhibitors Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT) and Gentle Jungle to include big cats and an elephant in the church’s Celebration of Christmas display, prompting PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—to send a letter today alerting the church that the display appears to violate both Arizona and Phoenix laws regulating the exhibition of tigers and lions.

Trainers with HTWT were caught on tape electro-shocking and beating elephants as the animals cried out in pain, and Gentle Jungle’s long list of Animal Welfare Act violations includes repeatedly denying animals veterinary care and proper shelter. PETA also points out that animals suffer immensely when they are dragged from town to town in cages or chains and denied everything that is natural and important to them in order to be exhibited in front of an audience.

“Forcing deprived, captive exotic animals to parade around in front of an audience is about as far from the Christmas spirit as you can get,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “PETA is calling on Phoenix First to cancel these apparently illegal displays and make sure that all future pageants are animal-free.”

For more information, please visit


PETA’s letter to Phoenix First follows.


December 10, 2014


Luke Barnett
Senior Pastor
Phoenix First


Dear Pastor Barnett:

I am writing on behalf of PETA and its more than 3 million members and supporters to share information about the animal exhibitors that your church is currently hosting. Both Gentle Jungle and Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT) have notorious histories of failing animals. In addition, it appears that exhibiting these animals contravenes both state and local law. After reviewing the following information, we hope you’ll cancel the animal portion of your Celebration of Christmas display and never include animals in your pageant again.

Animal Defenders International released video footage that shows trainers at HTWT as they use bullhooks—heavy batons with a sharp metal hook on the end that can cause painful welts, puncture wounds, and abscesses—to strike and jab elephants, including Rosie, who is featured in your display, on their feet, legs, bellies, and mouths, causing the animals to scream in pain. HTWT handlers are carrying these devices on your premises to serve as a constant—and terrifying—reminder to Rosie of the abuse that she will face if she does not obey as ordered. The video footage also shows the handlers shocking elephants with electric prods, even though this has been illegal in California—where the footage was taken—for many years.

Gentle Jungle is a chronic violator of the federal Animal Welfare Act. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has repeatedly cited the traveling exhibitor for denying animals shelter from the cold and heat, for splintered and ramshackle cages, and for denying animals veterinary care, including a cougar who was euthanized without being seen by a veterinarian and a camel who was showing signs of stiffness and difficulty moving. Gentle Jungle was also cited for keeping dogs crammed in cages so small that they could not even stand up inside them.

Elephants and other animals used for “entertainment” suffer tremendously. They are denied every fundamental thing that gives their lives meaning. They spend most of their days in chains and cages, jammed in tractor trailers, being hauled from one venue to the next.

In addition, your event appears to be in violation of the Arizona Administrative Code’s prohibition on the exhibition of tigers and lions, as none of the exceptions to this prohibition are applicable, as well as Phoenix’s Code of Ordinances, which requires that lions and tigers be registered with the city in advance of their appearance.

I hope to hear from you that you agree that forcing animals to participate in holiday shows is not in keeping with your church’s tenets or Christian doctrine, which requires respect and compassion for all God’s creation. Thank you for your consideration.

Yours truly,

Delcianna Winders, Esq.
Deputy General Counsel | Captive Animal Law Enforcement
PETA Foundation

Stay up to date on the latest vegan trends and get breaking animal rights news delivered straight to your inbox!

By submitting this form, you’re acknowledging that you have read and agree to our privacy policy and agree to receive e-mails from us.

Get the Latest Tips—Right in Your Inbox
We’ll e-mail you weekly with the latest in vegan recipes, fashion, and more!

By submitting this form, you’re acknowledging that you have read and agree to our privacy policy and agree to receive e-mails from us.