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LOTA and the Hawthorn Elephants

LotaWho are LOTA and the Hawthorn Elephants?
Lota is one of 16 elephants currently held by the Hawthorn Corporation of Illinois. The owner, John Cuneo, has made a business out of using these elephants for entertainment purposes. For more than 35 years he has rented elephants out to circuses. All of the elephants are veteran performers who have spent most of their lives traveling and performing in circuses.

Why have animal welfare activists been so concerned over the treatment of the Hawthorn Elephants?
John Cuneo has been repeatedly cited for animal care violations, particularly in his unwillingness to provide proper veterinary care for his animals. Numerous instances of obvious neglect, causing his elephant’s pain and suffering, were documented by the USDA.

What finally prompted the USDA to close down the Hawthorn operation?
Public pressure, repeated demands from animal welfare groups, and the long list of animal care violations were instrumental in getting the USDA to take this important action.

Did the USDA confiscate the elephants?
Actually, no; the Hawthorn elephants remain under the care of John Cuneo and his employees at their barn in Northern Illinois. The only elephant that the USDA has ever confiscated is Delhi, another one of John Cuneo’s elephants. In an unprecedented action, the USDA confiscated 58 year old Delhi a year and a half after her feet were soaked in full strength formaldehyde by a Hawthorn employee. She was sent to The Elephant Sanctuary in November of 2003, where she is currently recovering and doing very well.

If the elephants were not confiscated what happened?
To settle the lawsuit filed against him by the USDA, John Cuneo voluntarily relinquished all 16 of his elephants. In his March 2004 consent decree, John Cuneo agreed to place his elephants in other facilities by August 15.

What will happen to these elephants now that they’ve been surrendered?
That is the next big hurdle that must be overcome. Barn space in the nation’s elephant sanctuaries is at a premium. Placing 16 elephants is no small feat. Currently, there is not enough barn space in sanctuaries to take all of the elephants.

Several circuses have asked for the elephants, and breeding facilities have opened their doors as well – an alarming development. After having just advanced the cause of animal welfare, and especially elephant welfare, what a tragedy it would be to see these magnificent creatures again placed in distressing situations.

What would be the benefit of keeping the Hawthorn elephants together instead of splitting them up and sending them to different homes?
Some of the Hawthorn elephants have lived together for decades. Separating them could amount to inflicting extreme emotional trauma. Additionally, this herd represents a wealth of information regarding the life threatening diseases that plague captive elephants. They are known as the “TB Herd” because tuberculosis has been documented in the herd for nearly a decade. Kept together, much could be learned through non invasive research which would benefit these elephants, and potentially many captive elephants around the world.

What plan do you have in place to carry out non invasive research?
Upon our request, Dr. Susan Mikota DVM has drawn up a comprehensive plan to continue her ground-breaking work on tuberculosis in captive elephants. Dr. Mikota’s extensive background in elephant TB makes her a prime candidate to spearhead the development of diagnostics and treatments for TB and other diseases that plague captive elephants. The Elephant Sanctuary will establish a world class Elephant Health and Welfare Institute to further the research of TB and other diseases, which have had such a profound negative impact on the longevity and welfare of captive elephants.

What arrangements are being made for the Hawthorn elephants to come to the Sanctuary?
The Sanctuary has already received three of the Hawthorn 16; Delhi, Lota and Misty. We have raised the funds to build a new barn to enable us to accept all of the female Hawthorn elephants. Construction of the new barn is scheduled to be completed September 2005.

Can the Elephant Sanctuary accept all 16 of the Hawthorn elephants?
The Sanctuary has offered to accept all of the female elephants which at this time numbers 11 elephants; 10 Asians and one African.

Can the Hawthorn elephants be put in the barn with the Sanctuary elephants?
Elephants with TB must to be kept separate from other elephants to avoid spreading the disease to others.

Can the Hawthorn elephants that don’t have TB be put in the barn with the Sanctuary herd?
After proper quarantine and disease testing it would be acceptable to put a non-TB positive elephant in with other elephants. After Delhi joins our Asian herd in July, we will have space in our main elephant barn for one additional Asian elephant. We need more barn space for the Hawthorn elephants.

Is there a certain date that the funds must be raised by?
The USDA has advised that the elephants must be removed from the Hawthorn Corporation property by August 15th. On August 13, the Hawthorn Corporation filed 2 motions to stop the removal of their elephants. The case is back to court.

Is a new barn under construction right now?
The barn is under construction and on schedule to be completed by September.

Where have the donations come from?
The donations have come from Elephant Sanctuary members, Foundations and animal welfare organizations. To date, the Park Foundation gave $50,000, PETA has pledged $50,000, and the Chrysalis Foundation has pledged $250,000, just to name a few. Many other foundations and individuals have contributed to the effort to rescue the Hawthorn 16.

This sounds like a critical juncture for the animal welfare movement.
No one ever said that rescuing elephants was easy; perhaps this is why the USDA has never done it before. However, the USDA has greatly advanced the cause of animal welfare by now providing protection under the law for the Hawthorn elephants. To ensure that the movement does not lose momentum, the funds must be raised to place these elephants in sanctuaries equipped to care for them. We all recognize that if the necessary funding is not found, we run the risk that the USDA will not be able to confiscate needy elephants in the future.

What can I do to help?
You can…

  • make a donation
  • tell others and ask them to donate
  • start a fundraising campaign of your own
  • call the animal welfare organizations you belong to and request they contribute to the cause
  • inform any group that has campaigned for the release of circus elephants that funds are needed for Lota and her family
  • make your local media aware that you support the rescue of the Hawthorn elephants.

Can I really make a difference?
Most definitely. We have had great successes in rescuing elephants through the efforts of individuals who cared enough to take action. We are hoping that we can repeat these victories with the Hawthorn elephants – they so richly deserve it.

We are very grateful for your concern and aid in this cause. Thank you for being part of the solution.

Carol Buckley
Co-Founder/Executive Director

USDA Contact information:
Chester Gipson, D.V.M.
Associate Deputy Administrator
4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234

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