In Defense of Animals (IDA) is applauding the results of a federal investigation into the illegal sale of two elephants. Plea agreements reveal that stiff penalties, including substantial fines and probation, will be imposed against the Cole Bros. Circus, John Pugh, the circus’s owner, and trainer Will Davenport.
The investigation was initiated after IDA filed a complaint with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), charging that the parties violated the Endangered Species Act when Cole Bros. and Pugh sold two endangered Asian elephants to Davenport without the required permits. We are pleased that, following a four- year investigation by USFWS, the parties will finally be penalized for violating federal law.
As part of the plea agreement, the Cole Bros. Circus, its owner and president John Pugh, and circus contractor Davenport agreed to multi-year probation and community service, and will pay close to $160,000 in fines.
The illicit deal took place in 2006, when Davenport purchased elephants Tina and Jewel from Pugh and the Cole Bros. Circus, without the permits necessary to buy or sell an endangered species. Instead, the parties made public a lease agreement that disguised the true nature of the transaction.
Davenport used the elephants in performances with Cole Bros. and other circuses. In 2007, IDA filed a complaint with the USFWS regarding the illegal sale, launching a four-year investigation that ended with the plea agreements.
With the assistance of countless supporters who helped monitor Tina and Jewel as they were trucked around the country along with Queenie, IDA filed multiple complaints with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) citing the elephants’ deteriorating health and abusive treatment and urging their confiscation. Your thousands of calls and emails to the USDA bolstered the calls for action to save the elephants, and, in August 2009, the USDA finally confiscated Jewel. Davenport then surrendered Tina to the USFWS. By then they were suffering from life-threatening weight loss, foot abscesses and serious dental problems. They were taken to the San Diego Zoo, where they recovered, and are now on loan to the Los Angeles Zoo.
IDA continues to monitor the Cole Bros. Circus and has filed multiple complaints with the USDA regarding its apparent role in an elaborate scheme to circumvent federal animal welfare laws by helping a Florida-based animal handler exhibit animals even though his license was revoked by the agency for egregious violations.