Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
5 December 1999 Issue

Diseases that Kill the Elephants and...YOU!
By [email protected]

I bet you never thought that by simply patronizing a circus, you could actually contract a life debilitating disease. Well, it is true and your chances are even higher if you are a young child and within the close proximity of an elephant. For your safety, please read on.

While the life expectancy of wild elephants is comparable to humans, performing elephants often face untimely deaths as a result of the stress of their prison confinement and the resulting diseases. A common plague among numerous circus elephants is the contagious disease, tuberculosis (TB). The cramped, hot, congested travel cars in which the elephants are forced to live create an extremely productive environment for this particular disease. TB is highly contagious and easily passed from elephant to human and vice versa. A scary thought is that the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports TB as one of the US's top five infectious killers. In fact, Veterinarian John Lewis states, "If tuberculosis is diagnosed in an elephant, there are clear public health implications, as the disease can be spread by close contact with infected animals and people." Once a human is exposed to TB, the World Health Organization cautions that there is nothing an individual can do to protect themselves.

In 1996, the Circus Vargas knew they had two elephants in their possession, "Joyce" and "Hattie," who were infected with TB. Eventually, both elephants passed away as a result of this sickness. "Joyce" simply collapsed one day and died. "Hattie" fell just three days after "Joyce's" death, where she was simply pushed into a trailer by circus employees to die alone while being carted back to her winter quarters. Each elephant had given rides to children up to the day before their deaths. (Children and the elderly are the most susceptible to this particular disease.) Since this incident, numerous employees at the company from which "Hattie" and "Joyce" came from, the Hawthorn Corporation, have tested positive for TB. Because TB can lie inactive for many months, it is still unknown as to how many visitors of the Circus Vargas were infected by the disease.

This is not the only incident for which Hawthorn has made a name for itself. Due to the company's TB record, Hawthorn was prevented from shipping two elephants into the state of Florida. The company demanded that both elephants were TB free but later medical tests proved otherwise. Since then, at least 12 more elephants at Hawthorn have tested positive for TB. Fully aware of their infected elephants, Hawthorn was caught trying to sneak a TB positive elephant into Puerto Rico to perform in a circus. Even though the USDA imposed a 21-day suspension, Hawthorn continued to rent out animals to circuses. In July 1997, the infected animals were known to be shackled in a storage building for six months at a time, almost 24 hours a day ~ a perfect breeding ground for the disease!

It is obvious that the circus industry and the agencies responsible for its regulation have been anything but attentive when it comes to the safekeeping of both its animals and its spectators. If you do not chose to boycott animal circuses for the safety and concern of the animals, do it for you and your family's health. It could mean your life!

For more information on TB and the circus, visit

Go on to Start Your Own Petition to Ban Live Animal Circuses in Your Community
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