Federal Officials Confiscate Elephant from Circus Trainer
By OWEN R. BRUGH
Northwest Herald on Wed, Nov 26, 2003
RICHMOND – Federal agriculture officials have confiscated an Asian elephant from a circus trainer, alleging that the pachyderm's health was in danger.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture seized Delhi, a 57-year-old elephant, last weekend from the Hawthorn Corp. and transported the animal to a Tennessee sanctuary because Delhi was experiencing unrelieved suffering or was in imminent danger of dying, department spokesman Jim Rogers said Tuesday.
Delhi had several injuries to her left front foot. Foot injuries can cause infections and kill elephants.
"It's fairly rare that we confiscate an animal," Rogers said. "I don't think we've ever confiscated an elephant before."
The Hawthorn Corp. has 18 elephants and almost 100 tigers at its training centers in Richmond and Florida, company owner John Cuneo Jr. said.
Cuneo has owned the business since 1944.
Hawthorn trains and rents circus animals.
Cuneo said the Agriculture Department had no reason to remove the pachyderm, although the federal agency is attempting to strip Hawthorn of its license for other violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
"It's just terrible what they have done," Cuneo said of the seizure. "Delhi was a healthy, fat elephant."
San Diego veterinarian J.E. Oosterhuis checked Delhi on Oct. 31, according to a report, and wrote that the Hawthorn staff should be commended for their care.
However, Oosterhuis also wrote that Delhi's health was not improving, and the animal's injuries were due to age and a lack of outdoor time.
Delhi did not seem to be in pain, Oosterhuis wrote in his report.
Cuneo said he was notified Friday that the elephant would be confiscated.
"We even offered to transport her so she wouldn't have the discomfort of a winch into an unfamiliar trailer," Cuneo said. "They just said to stay out of the way."
Hawthorn has run afoul of federal agencies before.
The company in September was fined $37,100 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to protect employees from tuberculosis.
Hawthorn did not provide respirators, proper signs, or employee medical monitoring while caring for an elephant infected with the lung disease, officials said.
At least two elephants have died from tuberculosis at Hawthorn since 1996, according to OSHA. McHenry Countyhealth officials have said the training center on North Solon Road poses no threat to residents.
Last April, the department filed a 47-count complaint against Hawthorn, alleging that it was negligent and cruel to the animals in its care.
The charges involve abuse, improper veterinary care, and neglect of 12 Asian and African elephants.
Rogers said investigators have not decided whether allegations involving Delhi will be added to the complaint.
A hearing on the complaint is expected in March. The charges could result in the revocation of Hawthorn's license.
Hawthorn Corp. has been charged with violating the Animal Welfare Act three times in the past 10 years. It has been fined $72,500 for past abuses and has had its exhibitor's license suspended twice.
Cuneo blamed the problems on animal-rights activists.
"These people are trying to put all performance animals out of business, and this is their way of doing it," he said. "The animal-rights people have the ear of the USDA."
Cuneo said he will try to get Delhi back.
"We have lawyers in Washington looking into it," he said. "But it's the government. What can you do?"