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A PETA Investigation

Elderly Elephants With Foot and Joint Issues Suffer at Circus World Museum

Update (September 15, 2022): Following years of pressure from PETA, the Wisconsin Historical Society announced that the elephants it has been forcing to perform will be “retired” after summer 2023—but that “animals will continue to be a vital part” of its shows. The elephants will reportedly live at a facility in Oklahoma operated by Carson & Barnes Circus, which chains “retired” elephants, breeds them, and exploits them for lucrative public feeding photo ops and other forms of entertainment.

Originally posted on February 14, 2022:

The Wisconsin Historical Society, a state agency, forces elephants and other animals to perform every summer at a museum called Circus World in Baraboo. A PETA investigator documented that at Circus World, elephants Isa and Viola were forced to perform grueling tricks in shows twice a day, seven days a week, even though their feet were chronically swollen and they showed signs of other ailments.

Watch the video below to learn more about the suffering of elephants at Circus World:

Isa and Viola come from Carson & Barnes Circus, whose trainers PETA previously caught on camera beating elephants until they screamed. Isa and Viola were captured over 50 years ago and have been forced to perform in circus shows for decades.

elephants performing at circus

Isa and Viola are typically on the road for many months each year—often in a different city every day or two. During the 10 weeks that they were at Circus World in 2021, Isa was forced to carry groups of people on her back before and after every performance observed by the investigator. Records show that nearly 5,200 people paid to ride one of the elephants during that period. A handler wielded a sharp bullhook while the elephant carried up to eight riders on her back as many as 13 times in a row.

Elephants With Swollen Feet, Frayed Cuticles, Toenail Problems

Foot problems and arthritis are painful and can be deadly to elephants. But they’re common among captive elephants who are chained and forced to perform tricks and give rides.

At Circus World, Viola continually tried to shift weight off her rear legs, which could indicate foot or joint pain, especially given her advanced age.

Both elephants’ hind cuticles were frayed and chronically swollen. Isa had misshapen toenails, potentially the result of past infection.

Toenail trauma, abnormalities, and poor cuticle condition are indicative of foot problems that are likely to be painful.

To keep their feet healthy, elephants need to be able to roam on the soft earth and swim. Chaining them on concrete—where they can barely move and can’t escape the discomfort of the hard floor—is harmful to their feet and joints.

Yet Carson & Barnes chained Viola and Isa by two legs in a cement-block barn every night at Circus World, and during the day, when they were not performing or giving rides, the geriatric elephants were routinely confined to a small paddock with virtually no enrichment to encourage walking and exercise.

Chaining is likely to have limited their ability to lie down to take the pressure off their feet and relieve any discomfort.

There is no evidence to suggest that trainers ever noticed Isa and Viola’s foot and nail problems or took any action to address them, such as by removing the elephants from performances, or giving them sand piles to rest on.

Dismal Living Conditions, Elephants Desperate for Relief

At Circus World, when they weren’t being used for rides or performances, Isa and Viola were routinely left in a barren paddock with no water to drink or bathe in. Often there was limited natural shade, and the structure that seemed intended to provide protection from the sun was hardly big enough for both elephants to stand under at the same time.

Elephants love to swim and wallow in mud to cool off. But at Circus World, staff just sprayed Isa and Viola with a loud pressure washer and dried them with a leaf blower. Elephants have very sensitive hearing, but this assault on their senses was totally disregarded by the handler, who wore ear protection.

Following a rainstorm, the elephants huddled around a shallow puddle, desperate for mud to splash on their skin.

As the grass in this enclosure dwindled, the elephants often had to stretch their trunks under electrified wires to reach fresh grass.

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