Update: Veterinarian Reports Elephant’s Suffering, ‘Ongoing Pain’

For Immediate Release:
August 13, 2014

David Perle 202-483-7382

Ashtabula, Ohio

A board-certified zoo veterinarian with decades of experience working with elephants flew from Colorado to Ohio this past weekend to observe Nosey, the elephant currently being used by exhibitor Hugo Liebel to give rides at The Great Lakes Medieval Faire. After reviewing three weeks’ worth of video footage of Nosey and observing her in person, the veterinarian concluded that she “undoubtedly suffers from advanced arthritis and degenerative joint disease, resulting in ongoing pain, and most likely permanently impaired limb function.”

The veterinarian’s report on Nosey’s suffering and lameness prompted PETA to fire off an urgent complaint last night, its second in one week, calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to step in and stop Nosey from being forced to give rides.

Arthritis is one of the leading reasons captive elephants are euthanized, and in the veterinarian’s opinion, if Nosey’s condition continues to worsen, one day she could lie down and not be able to stand back up again. Given Nosey’s obvious and continued lameness, as evidenced in video footage, including video shot on August 2, PETA—whose motto says, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—calls into question whether the USDA properly examined Nosey’s gait and physical condition in an inspection that it supposedly conducted just one day later.

“An expert eyewitness has confirmed that this suffering, lame elephant is in pain every day that she is forced give rides at The Great Lakes Medieval Faire,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “PETA is calling on the authorities to do what’s required of them by law, and that means getting this elephant away from her abuser and ensuring that she receives the veterinary care needed to save her life.”

More information about Liebel is available here. PETA’s most recent letter to the USDA follows.


August 12, 2014


Elizabeth Goldentyer, D.V.M.
Eastern Regional Director


Re:  Urgent Request for Inspection of Apparently Lame Elephant Exhibited by Hugo Liebel (license number 58-C-0288)


Dear Dr. Goldentyer:

I am writing to follow up on PETA’s August 6 request that the USDA urgently inspect the elephant Nosey, whorequires immediate veterinary care in accordance with 9 C.F.R. § 2.40. Hugo Liebel has forced Nosey to perform despite the fact that she appears to be suffering and in pain,in apparent violation of 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(b)(1) and (d)(1).

Additional video footage shows that Nosey has been consistently lame since at least July 27, including the following:

  • Video 1, Video 2, and Video 3, from July 27, show that as Nosey walks, she does not seem to bend her left stifle. Instead, she swings the hind leg out and sideways.
  • Video 4, recorded on August 2, again shows that Nosey has a decreased range of motion in her left hind leg.
  • Video 5 and Video 6, recorded on August 9 by PETA Foundation wildlife veterinarian Dr. Heather Rally, show what Dr. Rally described as a “peg-leg or shuffling-type gait with the left limb.” Dr. Rally concluded that Nosey was showing signs of pain while bearing weight on the left rear leg, “evidenced by repeated and deliberate lingering on the right leg before stepping forward with the left.”

As you know, after reviewing the video footage that PETA submitted to the USDA last week (Video 1, Video 2, and Video 3), elephant expert and veterinarian Dr. Philip Ensley made an urgent trip to observe Nosey because he believed that she was in pain and suffering from “an extreme case of arthritis and degenerative joint disease.” His opinion did not change after observing Nosey over the course of August 9 and 10. On Saturday, August 9, Dr. Ensley informed you that Nosey demonstrated a “continuing and advancing arthritic profile and advancing degenerative joint disease[,] which she manifests by an extremely reduced range of motion in the joints of her rear limbs and painfully slow and deliberate walking gait.” And on Monday, August 11, he wrote to you that “this elephant undoubtedly suffers from advanced arthritis and degenerative joint disease, resulting in ongoing pain, and most likely permanently impaired limb function.”

Dr. Ensley “strongly recommend[ed]” that “because of the seriously painful gait the elephant displayed during two days of observation,” Nosey requires a complete physical examination, including a digital radiographic study of her limbs. He further opined that “[b]ecause of Nosey’s advanced musculoskeletal disease this task should be accomplished without delay.”

Nosey is plainly suffering as a result of Liebel’s apparent failure to comply with the veterinary and handling requirements set forth under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), and it is imperative that the USDA initiate confiscation of Nosey in accordance with 9 C.F.R. § 2.129(a). See also 7 U.S.C. § 2159 (“Whenever the Secretary has reason to believe that any … exhibitor … is placing the health of any animal in serious danger in violation of this chapter or the regulations or standards promulgated thereunder, the Secretary shall notify the Attorney General, who may apply to the United States district court in which such … exhibitor … resides or conducts business for a temporary restraining order or injunction to prevent any such person from operating in violation of this chapter or the regulations and standards prescribed under this chapter.” (emphasis added)). The USDA’s list of conditions that can cause suffering includes “[a]nimals with serious medical problems that are not receiving adequate veterinary care.” USDA, Animal Welfare Inspection Guide 8-25 (2013). Merely providing an animal with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), as Dr. Ensley suspects may be the case with Nosey, does not constitute adequate veterinary care because such drugs simply mask pain. By masking pain, NSAIDs allow an exhibitor to continue to engage in contraindicated activities, thereby aggravating the animal’s already painful condition.

It is hard to imagine that the USDA inspected Nosey on August 3 (as has been reported) yet did not find any non-compliances with the AWA, considering that Video 4, which was recorded just one day before, shows Nosey demonstrating a limited range of motion. USDA inspectors examining animals used for rides are specifically instructed to “pay attention to” an animal’s “locomotion, gait, and uniformity of stride” as well as “physical condition and behavior” and the exhibitor’s “[p]lan to provide veterinary care if an animal is injured away from the home facility.” USDA, Animal Welfare Inspection Guide 4-6 (2013). Moreover, it is an animal-care inspector’s responsibility to “[p]romptly recognize animals suffering and initiate confiscation procedures in accordance with the regulations.” Id. at 8-25. “Animals may be found to be suffering from any condition which causes pain or distress if action is not taken to alleviate the condition.” Id. Again, merely providing an animal with NSAIDs does not “alleviate” a condition causing pain.

With all due urgency, please conduct a thorough inspection of Nosey as well as Liebel’s veterinary records to ensure that the elephant is not forced to give rides if she is injured or lame. If she is found to be suffering, the USDA must initiate confiscation. PETA stands ready to help with placement of Nosey at a reputable sanctuary. I urge you to hold all responsible parties accountable for any and all AWA violations.

Very truly yours,

Rachel Mathews, Counsel
Captive Animal Law Enforcement


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