Feds Fiddle While Elephant Suffers: Veterinarian Blasts USDA

Elephant Expert Says USDA’s Lack of Enforcement Action Shows ‘Negligence and Incompetence at Every Level’

For Immediate Release:
October 13, 2014

David Perle 202-483-7382

Davenport, Fla.

Calling it “the worst, most prolonged” case of elephant suffering and abuse he’s ever seen, Dr. Philip Ensley, a board-certified veterinarian with decades of experience with elephants, including 29 years as the associate veterinarian for the San Diego Zoo, sent a letter this morning to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack taking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to task for failing to take any meaningful action to help the ailing elephant Nosey. Nosey is used for rides by Davenport-based circus owner Hugo Liebel, who has a long history of mistreating her, including chaining her so tightly that she could barely move.

“Nosey is in critical condition requiring confiscation, immediate appropriate veterinary care, and relocation to a facility that can provide for her special needs,” writes Dr. Ensley about his concerns with the USDA’s handling of Nosey. “There appears to be negligence and incompetence at every level, in particular within the inspection process and the inability to recognize the inadequate veterinary care being provided to Nosey.”

In late September, attorneys for PETA and Dr. Ensley met with USDA officials to demand that the agency take Nosey and other crippled elephants off the road.  Prior to the meeting, the USDA had heard from more than 165,000 PETA members and supporters asking the agency to take action for Nosey, who is believed to be suffering from advanced arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Yet the high-level agency officials showed up unprepared to address concerns about Nosey and admitted that they are unfamiliar with the specifics of Nosey’s situation—despite all the documentation, materials, and complaints submitted by PETA. When asked about examining Nosey to ensure that she’s receiving adequate veterinary care, as required by the Animal Welfare Act—which the USDA is charged with enforcing—the agency admitted that it never examines animals.

One of the reasons why PETA’s motto says, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment” is because the laws that exist to protect them are weak and poorly enforced and leave animals vulnerable to unchecked abuse—as PETA underscored in a full-page New York Times ad last Thursday.

Dr. Ensley’s letter to the USDA is available here. For more information, please visit PETA.org.

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