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Hugo Begins Life Of Misery In The Circus

April 20th, 2012 by Nicole Meyer

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On April 25, 2011, a male elephant was born at the Carson and Barnes Circus winter quarters in Hugo, Oklahoma. He was named Hugo, a name that – according to the circus website – “just sounded circus.”

Though not yet a year old, Hugo is already on the road. IDA has confirmed that Hugo has been “rented out” to the Cole Brothers Circus. While he is not yet performing, there are indications that his training is underway. This is nothing new for Carson and Barnes elephants; Hugo’s five-year-old sister, Val, has been performing with the circus for over three years, much of the time without her mother.  

In the wild, baby elephants grow up surrounded by a circle of nurturers – mothers and other family members cooperatively care for each baby. Female calves stay with their natal herd for their entire lives and the males until sexual maturity, usually well into their teens. In the circus, however, elephant babies are a box-office draw. Virtually every elephant performing today started out their lives with the agony of being violently separated from their mothers. Added to this trauma is the cruelty of the training process so vividly demonstrated in photos provided to the Washington Post by a former Ringling trainer, showing terrified babies being taught to perform unnatural tricks through pain, prolonged restraint and punishment.

The stress of maternal deprivation, violent training, and constant confinement and travel takes a toll on young elephants, often leading to injury, sickness and death. Chronic stress is known to weaken the immune system and can leave young elephants susceptible to dangerous diseases. Two young Carson and Barnes elephants were stricken with the deadly elephant herpes virus (EEHV); one named Jenny died at age five. The baby elephant Barack, who was performing even before his first birthday with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has survived two bouts with EEHV and there are reports that he has left the circus again due to illness. In addition, the tricks these calves are forced to perform can cause lasting injury to their developing bones and muscles. Ringling’s baby Ricardo was euthanized at eight months of age when he fell off a tub and broke his legs in a training session that involved bullhooks and ropes. 

Our concern is heightened by the fact that Hugo and Val are touring with the Cole Brothers Circus, whose indifference to the welfare of the animals it uses has been demonstrated time and time again. The circus recently settled charges filed by the USDA for more than 10 counts of violating the Animal Welfare Act, and these charges were just part of a long string of demonstrated abuse and neglect of the animals in their “charge.”

The person training and handling Hugo and Val is none other than the notorious Tim Frisco, who was caught on video (below) demonstrating how to train elephants by beating them and telling other handlers to “make ‘em scream” in order to get the elephants to obey commands. The cards seem stacked against these calves!

IDA has been asking the USDA for years to acknowledge that forcing baby elephants to travel and perform is a violation of the safe handling requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. The agency has so far declined to take any action to protect young elephants forced to travel and perform.

With several baby elephants at immediate risk, we need your help.