Video: Local Circus Forces Geriatric Elephants to Perform, PETA Reveals

For Immediate Release:
February 14, 2022

Megan Wiltsie 202-483-7382

Hugo, Okla.

A PETA investigation has revealed that two elderly elephants, Isa and Viola, were “contracted out” from the locally based Carson & Barnes Circus to the Circus World Museum in Wisconsin, where they were forced to perform every day between mid-June and August of last year, despite showing signs of painful foot and joint problems—which are among the leading reasons why captive elephants are euthanized. In response to the findings, PETA is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bar Carson & Barnes from continuing to subject Isa and Viola to the grueling routine of traveling, giving rides, and performing.

PETA documented that both elephants shifted weight off their hind legs for significant periods of time, which could indicate discomfort caused by arthritis or other conditions. The video footage shows that their hind feet were often swollen and that Isa had misshapen toenails, which can be a serious problem for elephants. Nevertheless, 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 both elephants were kept chained throughout the night.

“Forcing geriatric elephants to perform stupid tricks, haul people on their backs, and stand on concrete all night while chained by their legs is no way to treat them or elders of any species,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews. “PETA is calling on Carson & Barnes to grant these long-suffering elephants a peaceful and well-earned retirement and urging the public to avoid animal acts as if lives depended on it, because they do.”

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. Its head trainer has been caught on camera instructing other trainers to sink a bullhook into elephants’ flesh and twist it until they scream. Carson & Barnes is currently being sued by a guest who was seriously injured during an encounter with an elephant at the Hugo roadside zoo where it keeps elephants who aren’t traveling with the circus.

PETA has documented the suffering and exploitation of Viola and Isa for years. Each has escaped from Carson & Barnes twice (together in 2014, Viola alone in 2010, and Isa alone in 1975, when she was on the lam for 17 days). In 2010, Isa stepped on a trainer. In 1999, PETA released results from an undercover investigation that included documentation that Viola was chained up and swaying in apparent distress.

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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