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Elephant Escape From Circus Spurs Federal Complaint

April 29th, 2010 by Nicole Meyer

VIOLAIDA filed a complaint today with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over an incident in which an elephant named Viola temporarily escaped from the Cole Bros. Circus in Lynchburg, Virginia, and was injured after a fall. We have called on the USDA to order  Cole to cease using Viola in performances or to give rides until the incident is thoroughly investigated and her health status – both physical and mental – is fully evaluated.

Viola reportedly was “startled” by a rabbit and ran past customers waiting to purchase tickets on Tuesday evening, ignoring her handler’s commands. She was completely out of control and it is just luck that no people were injured or killed. Viola fell down a steep embankment and injured her shoulder and foot. It took several efforts to get her to her feet, and nearly 30 minutes to bring her back under control.

Such events are all too common. Just a few weeks ago, the elephant Dumbo- reportedly also “startled” –  killed her handler at a Pennsylvania Shrine Circus. Last fall, an elephant with a history of breaking loose escaped her handlers and was struck and injured by an SUV.  Since 1990, at least 14 human deaths and more than 120 human injuries have been attributed to elephants.

In one particularly notorious incident, the elephant Tyke, while performing for a circus in Hawaii, killed her trainer and gored her groomer before hundreds of horrified spectators. Tyke bolted from the arena and ran through city streets for more than thirty minutes. Police fired 86 shots at Tyke, who eventually collapsed and died. A similar incident occurred at a circus in Palm Bay, Florida, involving the elephant Janet, who was carrying people on her back at the time. Viola is also used to give rides.

Given the realities of circus life for elephants – constant exposure to changing environments, bright lights, loud noises and being in crowds with children and with other animals – it is inconceivable that a healthy elephant would be so startled by a rabbit that she would flee. We have suggested to the USDA that this likely means that she is already under excessive stress, meaning that a flight reaction could be triggered easily, at any time, even while performing or giving rides.

Viola is one of three Carson and Barnes elephants (along with Nina and Libby) leased to Cole for the season. We will continue to monitor them all as Cole travels around the eastern US.

Please click HERE to join IDA’s Elephant Task Force to learn more about what you can do to help elephants.

This blog was contributed by Deborah Robinson, IDA’s Captive Elephant Specialist.

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  145. June 29, 2010 at 9:14 am, Kim Hogan said:

    This was a follow-up article in Lynchburg Va newspaper, newsadvance.com. Darrell Laurant contacted and interviewed me following our peaceful protest at The Natural Bridge Zoo (about an hour from Lynchburg Va in Natural Bridge Va). He mentions VIOLA, the elephant who was injured when she attempted an escape and fell down an embankment. VIOLA was traveling with Cole Bros. Circus. We are not sure where she is now.
    This article is dated June 23, 2010.
    Follow-up letters to the editor with courteous, informative comments about elephants in zoos and circuses are welcomed. ASHA is a lone elephant at Natural Bridge Zoo. She has 1.5 acres — she has killed at least 1 other elephant and has injured at least 1 worker. She STILL GIVES ELEPHANT RIDES!

  146. May 17, 2010 at 1:08 pm, Kim Reid Hogan said:

    I live in Lynchburg, VA and heard about VIOLA for the first time on our local WSET-13/ABC news. There was an alert that an elephant had escaped the circus. Later on there was an interview with the Circus handler. He made a ridiculous comment that Viola “broke a nail; … you know how it is when you break a nail, ladies. Viola will be up and performing very soon.”
    That comment alone outraged me and led me on research, telephone calls, and letter writing to try and do something to help Viola and her sister elephants, Nina and Libby.

    I have been in touch with PETA and Animal Control Officers in cities that Viola traveled to after they left Lynchburg. I also called the owner of Cole Bros circus. He has not responded to my call.

    I had no idea until hearing about Viola that this kind of treatment goes on all the time with circus elephants, i.e. bull hooks, chaining, hours and hours of standing in one place. I had no idea about the breaking of baby elephants, PTSD, and on and on.

    My GOAL is to see VIOLA and her sisters retired to The Animal Sanctuary in Tennessee or the sanctuary in California. I do not know what has to be done to make this happen, but I hope and pray we can all ban together to help them. I am also hoping to get Lynchburg Va to ban all circuses who have animal acts banned from coming here.

    Thank you for speaking up and out for VIOLA!
    Kim Reid Hogan
    Lynchburg Va

  147. May 06, 2010 at 6:49 am, Toni Maier said:

    I am in tears reading about what I know has been happening for over 100 years now, to these poor innocent creatures. It is amzing to me thet people never think about the fate of these animals when they gawk at that them in these jails we call zoos. I have never believed the line about conservation or education. Zoos and circuses have only, always been about money.
    I would like to get as many people as possbile down to the Staples Center on July 16 and 17 to protest the Ringling Bros circus. I would like to take blown up pictures with us to show the cruelty that these animals endure. I have contacted PETA several times but have not received a direct answer. Please let me know if you can help raise attention to organizing a protest at the circus.

    Thank you !

    Toni Maier
    323-828-1777

    • May 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm, Lorrie Morris said:

      Toni,
      Contact In Defense of Animals, Deborah Robinson is their elephant specialist.

  148. April 30, 2010 at 3:28 pm, Nancy said:

    Cases like Tyke’s and Lota’s underscore the brutality that elephants have endured in circuses and zoos. There is little practical protection afforded to them in favor of people making profits. The trainer Tyke killed had alcohol and cocaine in his bloodstream when they did his autopsy according to news accounts. It isn’t hard to imagine what frame of mind he must have been in when he wielded his bullhook against poor Tyke. She just couldn’t take anymore. And Lota was practically a walking cadaver from advanced tuberculosis by the time the Elephant Sanctuary was able to take custody of her. And now all of these latest cases of elephants snapping and going on rampages. What does it take to make people realize they don’t belong in these confined, brutal venues? I really wonder.

  149. April 30, 2010 at 1:03 pm, Nicole H said:

    I think Mahatma Gandi was right when he said “The moral progress of a nation and its greatness should be judged by the way it treats its animals.” How will we be judged?

  150. April 30, 2010 at 12:16 am, janette said:

    Poor girl to be constantly under threat of punishment if she doesn’t walk, eat , rest when she is commanded to…who is safe guarding her welfare,,,,,,,retire her to TES or PAWS…stop this cruelty..

  151. April 29, 2010 at 11:35 am, November Alexis said:

    Tired of seeing animals enslaved. I was living in Hawaii when the Tyke incident happened and watched the news, horrified and dozens of policemen opened fire on that poor, terrified, creature. It is sad that that little boy had to die, but you know what? That death is on the trainer and the people of the circus who captured and imprisoned her, not on the elephant. It is more sad, to me, the sickeningly, excessively violent way the animal died. But I believe that was the only choice of that animal..to attain freedom. So sad. OUTLAW CIRCUSES AND RODEOS AND ANY OTHER CAPTURE AND IMPRISONMENT OF ANIMALS. ZOOS SHOULD BECOME STRICTLY SANCTUARIES…ONLY TAKING IN SICK, INJURED, ABANDONED, RETIRED, OLD, UNWANTED ANIMALS FOR THEIR WELFARE. NO SHOWS, NO TRICKS, NO IMPRISONMENT. lET’S DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!