Pacers Endangered! Players’ Photo With Elephants That’s Too Up Close and Personal to Be Kosher Prompts Formal PETA Complaint

PETA Alerts Feds That Ringling Bros. Appears to Be Violating Law That Requires Public to Keep Its Distance From 4-Ton Pachyderms

For Immediate Release:
December 15, 2014

David Perle 202-483-7382

Indianapolis – An Instagram photo of Paul George and George Hill of the Indiana Pacers posing just inches away from three adult elephants with the Ringling Bros. circus has prompted PETA to send a letter this morning asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to hold Ringling accountable for endangering the players in apparent violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

As PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—notes in its complaint that the AWA requires a safe and secure barrier or sufficient distance between elephants and the public, yet George and Hill are seen inside the barrier that’s apparently intended to contain the elephants. Frustrated captive elephants have been known to lash out and attack handlers and members of the public—including an incident last year in which an elephant grabbed the arm of a woman who was trying to take a photo of him and pulled her into the metal bars of his enclosure, leaving her with a collapsed lung and multiple broken bones.

“If Ringling is allowing athletes to stand just inches away from and within trunk’s reach of frustrated elephants whose captivity makes them ticking time bombs, then it cares as little about public safety as it cares about the elephants it beats, chains, and drags around the country,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “PETA is calling on everyone who cares about their own or their children’s safety or that of the elephants to stay away from Ringling and any other circus that uses and abuses animals.”

For more information, please visit


PETA’s letter to the USDA follows.



December 15, 2014


Elizabeth Goldentyer, D.V.M.
Regional Director
USDA/APHIS/AC Western Region


Re:  Request for Investigation Into Ringling’s Dangerous and Apparently Illegal Exhibition of Elephants


Dear Dr. Goldentyer:

I am writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture promptly investigate Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (License No. 52-C-0137) for Animal Welfare Act violations that are evident in a December 10 Instagram photograph of Paul George and George Hill—members of the Indiana Pacers, a professional basketball team—posing inches away from three adult elephants (see Attachment A). In the photograph, the athletes are standing behind the barrier intended to contain the elephants, in front of the animals’ powerful trunks, and only a single handler is partially visible in the background, in apparent violation of:

  • 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(c)(1) (“During public exhibition, any animal must be handled so there is minimal risk of harm to the animal and to the public, with sufficient distance and/or barriers between the animal and the general viewing public so as to assure the safety of animals and the public.”)
  • 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(d)(3) (“During public exhibition, dangerous animals such as … elephants must be under the direct control and supervision of a knowledgeable and experienced animal handler.”)

Captive elephants who are frustrated, abused, and bored have been known to lash out and attack handlers and members of the public, making Ringling’s stunt irresponsible and risky. Moreover, standing in front of elephants’ trunks—as the athletes do in the photo—is extremely dangerous. As detailed in a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report, an elephant recently used his trunk to grab the iPhone and arm of a woman who was attempting to take a photo of him and pulled her into the metal bars of his enclosure, causing a collapsed lung, liver and kidney lacerations, damage to her spleen (which had to be removed), broken ribs, a broken left wrist, and several large de-gloving wounds (see Attachment B).

Please hold Ringling fully accountable for any and all violations that you uncover during your investigation. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Please inform me of the complaint number that your agency assigns to this correspondence.

Very truly yours,

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

For Media: Contact PETA's
Media Response Team.


Get PETA Updates

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.

 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind