IDA Gives Cole Bros. Circus Its Worst Year Ever
An Animal Rights Article from


In Defense of Animals (IDA)
November 2011

The Cole Bros. Circus has had its worst year ever in 2011, thanks to IDA. The circus faced a barrage of federal actions as a result of IDA investigations into a virtually unending series of schemes to circumvent federal animal welfare law, horrific animal abuse, and flagrant endangerment of the public.

IDA's determined pursuit of the Cole Bros. Circus has, so far, resulted in the following federal actions:

  • In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) levied huge fines and probation against the circus and owner John Pugh for the illegal sale of two endangered Asian elephants, Tina and Jewel. IDA uncovered the sale in 2007 and filed the complaint that led to this action. Federal agencies forcibly removed Tina and Jewel in 2009 from the abusive trainer to whom the circus had sold them, following a two-year campaign by IDA.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) formally charged the circus with animal welfare violations, including inadequate veterinary care and the unsafe handling of Tina and Jewel. These charges are still pending.
  • The formal charges by the USDA also include unsafe handling and illegal trafficking in tigers. IDA had repeatedly pressured the USDA to hold the circus responsible for hiring a procession of unlicensed and inexperienced tiger handlers during the 2010 season.
  • In 2011, the USDA repeatedly cited trainers performing with the circus for safe handling violations, including a handler with no experience giving rides on an elephant with a history of escape.

IDA has also filed complaints regarding another elephant handler who has been repeatedly caught on video abusing elephants. We discovered that this person is not allowed to hold a USDA license because of his history of elephant abuse.

IDA applauds the USFWS and the USDA for taking these critical steps to ensure that the Cole Bros. Circus is prosecuted for its violations of federal law. But we will not stop monitoring the circus or filing complaints as long as Cole continues to put children, families and the animals at risk. We will continue to urge the USDA to hold the Cole Bros. Circus responsible for the illegal actions of its hired and often dangerously inexperienced exhibitors, and for any animal welfare and public safety violations.

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