Following multiple investigation requests from PETA, the
Chicago Inspector General (IG) launched a probe of the city’s regulation of
circuses and other animal exhibitors. Now, the IG has released its report, with
recommended changes to licensing and permitting procedures.

Scandal at Ringling

Public records about Chicago’s inspections of the
notoriously inhumane Ringling
Bros. circus
 in November 2010 documented numerous disturbing violations of state and local
animal protection laws with no indication of resulting law-enforcement action. So
in December 2010, PETA filed an investigation request asking that the IG
“determine why, in the face of compelling evidence of cruelty and neglect,
the City of Chicago did nothing to provide relief to suffering animals or to
hold Ringling responsible for its actions.

As detailed in PETA’s request, several issues were noted during
the 2010 inspection:

  • Renowned elephant expert Margaret Whittaker—a
    former zookeeper and elephant manager with more than 20 years of experience
    managing, training, and caring for elephants—noted that the feet of the elephant
    Nichole “have significant issues” that hadn’t been properly treated.
    Foot problems are the leading reason why captive elephants are euthanized, and
    the failure to adequately address this risk violated both state and local laws.
  • Whittaker also observed that Nichole’s overall
    condition was “shocking. She appears uncomfortable and has many physical
    conditions that would support this assumption. Her swollen front legs and
    overall foot health are of grave concern.”
  • Whittaker remarked that another elephant, Karen,
    had “a serious abscess that should be treated” on a toenail, a likely
    “degenerative” foot condition that “will worsen over time and
    eventually cause her more serious foot problems,” and a tooth that
    “is migrating to the center of her mouth” and may “have
    devastating results,” leaving her unable to “properly process
  • Whittaker expressed particular concern about
    Sara, a young elephant already suffering from “a myriad of problems, both
    physical and psychological.” Sara’s feet, she asserted, “are in need
    of care,” and her “front leg was stiff and when asked to lift her
    front right foot, she could not lift it normally or fully which suggests it is
    either painful to do this move or she has some permanent damage to the leg that
    prevents her from moving it normally.” Whittaker concluded that Sara’s
    “conspicuous foot and leg problems that are likely painful lead me to the
    conclusion that this elephant experiences periods of distress.”
  • Chicago Animal Care and Control (ACC)
    veterinarian Dr. Audrey Keller found that “[p]er Ringling veterinary
    staff, no medication was currently being administered to any
    elephant”—despite the fact that multiple elephants presented foot problems
    and stiffness. According to Dr. Keller’s report, “Medical care has not
    been appropriately addressed to cover issues such as draining tracts from toe
    nail abscesses.”

Despite this unequivocal information, no action was taken,
and these elephants were forced to perform 20 times during Ringling’s Chicago
stand. In November 2011, PETA followed up with the IG’s office to renew its
request for an investigation.

Now, just before Ringling’s 2012 Chicago appearances,
scheduled for November 4 to 25, the IG has issued a report calling for changes
in the way that the city handles circuses and other animal exhibitors,
recommending the following:

  • The city should “require significantly more
    information” with permit applications, including veterinary records.
  • ACC should exercise its recently codified
    authority to make known “rules and regulations regarding the specific
    requirements necessary to approve or deny a license or permit
    application,” noting that ACC has “significant discretion in this
    area.” ACC has responded that it is working toward this goal.
  • ACC should “provide additional training for
    its inspectors, or work with outside specialists, to ensure that all ACC
    inspections are conducted competently,” noting that, “[c]urrently,
    not all inspections are performed by those who are trained in identifying
    issues specific to the animals included in a given exhibit.” In response,
    ACC has “pledged to seek additional training for inspectors and
    veterinarians to identify issues specific to exotic animals included in Chicago

The report also notes that under a new ordinance, the
executive director of ACC has “additional discretion to work with a
permittee to correct any violations or to issue fines or impose summary closure
upon a finding of imminent hazard to the health of the animals.”

PETA will be following up with the city, particularly in
light of the fact that Nichole, Karen, and Sara are all scheduled to appear in
Chicago again over the next few weeks and a recent independent expert’s inspection report reveals that these animals’ health still remains of significant concern.

What You Can Do

Please take a minute of your time to help spare Karen, Nicole, and Sara from additional suffering by politely urging Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack to stop folding to pressure from Ringling and to immediately seize these ailing elephants before it’s too late—foot disorders and arthritis are the leading reasons for euthanasia in captive elephants.

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Article source: PETA Files

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