May 1, 2000
Board of Supervisors
County of Riverside
RE: Ordinance #804
Dear Board members:
I support Ordinance #804 that prohibits the display of
elephants for public entertainment or amusement. You are commended for
your insight into the problems caused by these animals and their
I was a Veterinary Medical Officer for USDA for 6 years.
I was in charge of the federal disease control programs and enforcement
of the Animal Welfare Act in Vermont. I often inspected circuses. Circus
animals are poorly inspected under the USDA animal Welfare Act for
several reasons. When a problem with a circus is found, paperwork must
be generated and a compliance officer needs to visit the circus. Often
by the time this is completed, the exhibitor is in another state and in
another USDA veterinarian's jurisdiction. If that veterinarian happens
to inspect that circus, the procedure is repeated and the exhibitor
moves on without the problem being solved.
Veterinarians working for USDA do not receive training
in diseases that affect animals performing in circuses and exhibitions.
They do not know how to diagnose diseases and do not know if the
elephant or any other circus animal has a disease that infects humans.
USDA veterinarians do not know how to restrain elephants or other circus
animals and, furthermore, do not have the drugs necessary to do proper
restraint. Proper restraint is necessary to take blood samples or tissue
samples to send to a diagnostic laboratory. So the USDA veterinarians do
not do diagnostic workups on circus animals. USDA veterinarians are more
concerned with housing and husbandry than diseases.
Furthermore, USDA veterinarians must work with state
agricultural officials who have the ultimate control over what the USDA
veterinarian does or does not do. Many state agricultural officials know
less than the USDA veterinarian about circus animal diseases. Often
state political interests interfere with the USDA veterinarian's
conducting a proper inspection. Unfortunately, USDA veterinarians do not
work with the state department of health officials. These officials have
a greater knowledge of zoonoses than agricultural officials do but they
seldom learn of a problem with a circus animal. They are "out of the
There is no amount of inspection or inspectors that can
prevent an elephant from rampaging or a tiger from attacking. No one
knows when the animal is about to become violent. No one knows what
causes the crazed behavior. One can speculate with some grounds that the
animal is sick or stressed beyond its endurance. These are wild animals
in a very abnormal environment. Exercise is very limited and housing is
cramped and confining. Wild animals are used to wide open spaces and
their territory is large. Elephants have been known to walk 20 miles or
more in a day. The food they are given is not what they would eat in the
Because they are wild and dangerous, they cannot receive
appropriate preventative or curative veterinary care. Neither a large
animal practitioner nor a small animal veterinarian is equipped to
handle elephants or big cats. These veterinarians are not trained to
make diagnoses on exotic, wild animals. So circus animals are often not
treated when they need care. Certainly circus personnel are not trained
to make a diagnosis and they do not have access to lab facilities if
they did try to find out what was wrong with an animal.
Therefore, USDA compliance is at best hopelessly
ineffective. You should not rely on USDA inspections to provide you with
an answer to the problem of circus animal care. You need to adopt your
own rules so that you are in control.
The issue of zoonoses needs to be addressed.
Tuberculosis is considered an emerging disease transmittable to humans.
Elephants carry both human and bovine tuberculosis. Both infect humans.
According to recent research, many handlers test positive for TB. (See
the accompanying research material by Michalak et al on M. tuberculosis
Infection as a Zoonotic Disease) TB is becoming more resistant to
treatment in humans. TB is spread by exhaled air, oral secretions,
feces, urine and vaginal and uterine discharges. Certainly the public
would be exposed to these materials during rides or when they are up
close to elephants or when walking near elephants' manure.
To protect the public, anyone bringing exotic animals in
close proximity or in contact with the public should be required to
submit current TB health records for the animals. All employees/handlers
should be tested and present up to date records of these tests when
exposing circus animals to the public. The treatment for TB is not
without risk and the drugs must be given for at least 6 months. The
County needs to address the liability issue here. Most traveling wild
and exotic animal exhibits are under-insured, considering the potential
public danger associated with their industry. Because of the liability
issue, the city or county issuing permits for the use of these animals
is placing tremendous responsibility on the taxpayers in the community.
Tuberculosis is not the only microorganism that can be
transmitted from elephant to human. Other deadly germs include
Salmonella, Anthrax, Encephalomyelitis virus and E.coli. All of these
microorganisms have caused death in humans.
#804 is a good ordinance. It removes elephants as a
source of often deadly human infections.
Peggy W. Larson, DVM, MS, JD
[Editor's Note: Address deleted in interests of safety]
For more information, see the following website:
Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection as a Zoonotic
Disease: Transmission betwee
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Animal Cruelty and Human Violence
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