‘Throw the Book at Elephant-Abusing Circus,’ PETA Urges Officials

Charges Filed After UniverSoul Reportedly Caught Using Metal-Tipped Bullhook in Elephant’s Sensitive Mouth

For Immediate Release:
February 25, 2015

Delcianna Winders 202-483-7382


With a representative of UniverSoul Circus as well as Larry Carden, the elephant exhibitor performing with the circus, headed to court tomorrow to face charges of elephant abuse, PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—sent an urgent letter to Atlanta City Solicitor Raines F. Carter calling on him to prosecute the charges vigorously.

As PETA notes in the letter, the charges were filed after a Fulton County animal control officer reportedly witnessed a handler insert a bullhook (a weapon that resembles a fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook on one end) into an elephant’s sensitive mouth, a violation of the Atlanta Code’s prohibition on inserting “any instrument into any bodily orifice” of an elephant. PETA further cautions that succumbing to any pressure to drop the charges from the Atlanta-based circus would render the minimal protections offered by the Atlanta Code—which was passed in 2012 instead of a bullhook ban—meaningless.

“Letting UniverSoul get away with this clear violation will send a dangerous message that cruelty to elephants is welcome in the city of Atlanta,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “PETA is calling on Atlanta officials to prosecute these charges to the fullest extent and make sure that elephants are guaranteed the protection of the laws created to help them.”

For more information, please visit PETA.org.

PETA’s letter to City Solicitor Raines F. Carter follows.


February 25, 2015

Raines F. Carter
City Solicitor

Dear Mr. Carter:

On behalf of PETA and its more than 5,000 members and supporters in Atlanta, I am writing to urge you to vigorously prosecute elephant abuse charges filed against Benjamin Johnson III, a UniverSoul Circus representative, and Larry Dean Carden, the circus’s elephant exhibitor, which are set to be heard tomorrow.

These charges were filed after an animal-control officer witnessed Carden insert a bullhook—a sharp device resembling a fireplace poker—into an elephant’s mouth during a February 14 circus performance. The Atlanta Code, in a provision that was passed with UniverSoul’s full participation in the legislative process, makes clear that this act constitutes a per se violation. Atl. Code § 18-123(d)(4) (“It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in abusive behavior towards an elephant, which behavior shall include the use of any instrument to discipline the elephant by any of the following methods …. Insertion of any instrument into any bodily orifice” (emphasis added)).

This provision was adopted—nearly unanimously—in 2012 in lieu of a complete ban on the bullhook like those adopted by Fulton County and other jurisdictions across the country, with the intent of prohibiting bullhook abuse without prohibiting the device outright, and the city has made it clear that it wants the prohibition on elephant abuse “robustly enforced.” See Intergovernmental Agreement for the Provision of Animal Control Services Between Fulton County, Georgia, and Atlanta, Georgia (“[T]he … City of Atlanta Code of Ordinances contain provisions …. specifically prohibiting abusive behavior towards elephants; and …. it is the desire of the City that these provisions …. be robustly enforced” (emphases added)).

You may face political pressure regarding these charges, given that UniverSoul is based in Atlanta. Please do not bow to any such pressure, and please ensure that the strongest case possible is mounted in what is ultimately a straightforward matter. The penalties at stake are not high, but letting the circus get away with this violation would send a message that elephant abuse is welcome in Atlanta. It is crucial that your office do everything in its power to ensure that Carden, who allegedly inserted the bullhook into the elephant’s mouth, and Johnson, who is responsible for the act in his capacity as a representative of UniverSoul, see Atl. Code § 1-2 (“‘Person’ includes any … corporation, partnership or body politic and corporate, as well as an individual”); id. § 18-123(d) (“It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in abusive behavior towards an elephant” (emphasis added)), are held accountable.

Thank you for your attention to this important and time-sensitive matter.

Very truly yours,

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

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