New Video Shows Aging Elephants Forced to Perform at Circus World Museum

PETA Calls Time on Wisconsin Historical Society’s Shameful Animal Act

For Immediate Release:
February 14, 2022

Megan Wiltsie 202-483-7382

Baraboo, Wis.

This morning, PETA fired off a letter to Christian Øverland, the director and CEO of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which operates the old Circus World Museum, reminding him that the rest of the country has moved on, recognizing elephants as highly intelligent beings deserving of our respect, not of servitude, and urging him to right a historical wrong by ending the annual summer circus’s demeaning, abusive wild-animal acts.

The action follows a PETA investigation revealing that two elderly elephants, Isa and Viola, were forced to perform at Circus World every day, despite showing signs of foot and joint problems. Both elephants shifted weight off their hind legs for significant periods, which could indicate discomfort caused by arthritis or other conditions. The video shows that their hind feet were often swollen, and Isa had misshapen toenails, which can be a serious problem for elephants. Painful foot and joint problems are among the leading reasons why captive elephants are euthanized. Regardless, Isa was forced to give rides before and after every show observed by PETA’s investigator, while a handler threatened her with a bullhook (a weapon resembling a fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook on one end). A worker admitted on video that the elephants were kept chained throughout the night.

“Forcing geriatric elephants to perform stupid tricks, haul people on their backs, and stand on hard concrete all night while chained by their legs is no way to treat elders of any species,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews. “PETA is calling out the Wisconsin Historical Society, as it’s time to stop exploiting elephants and step into the 21st century with a show featuring only willing human performers.”

Isa and Viola come from Carson & Barnes Circus, whose head trainer was caught on camera instructing other trainers to sink a bullhook into elephants’ flesh and twist it until they scream. Carson & Barnes has racked up over 100 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, including while at Circus World, where it used an elephant who was so thin that her hip bones were protruding and failed to notice that another elephant was lame.

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 newsgathering and reporting, please visit or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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