Lota & Misty in the News
Richmond-area trainer finds home for 2 elephants (Northwest Herald, Aug. 3, 2004)
Lota the elephant could use some help (Journal Sentinel, June 23, 2004)
USDA Seizes Circus Elephants (Washington Post, March 18, 2004)
Government Seizes Elephant Herd (March 18, 2004)
Hawthorn Corporation Admits to Charges (USDA Press Release, March 17, 2004)
Elephant Owner Admits Guilt (March 15, 2004 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Owner Agrees to Find Elephants New Homes (Chicago Tribune, March 8, 2004)
Elephant's Plight Recalls Bittersweet Tale of Ziggy (July 13, 2003)
Hawthorn Corporation has once again been cited (July 1, 2003)
Time to Let this Elephant Forget her Grim Past (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 8, 2003)
Facility that Owns Lota the Elephant Faces Abuse Charges (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 1, 2003)
SAVE 53 -YEAR -OLD ELEPHANT IN EMERGENCY CONDITION (April 20, 2003 petition update)
November 14, 2002 Update on Lota
October 11, 2001 Update on Lota
March 30, 1999 Update on Lota
I guess there is not a lot of "Lota" left. That is if you read an e-mail dispatched by a group trying to save a "sick, elderly circus elephant named Lota from Hawthorn Corp.," which trains and rents elephants to circuses.
The group, the Council for Lota's Retirement, describes Hawthorn as "a well-known abusive company owned by renowned Chicago businessman John F. Cuneo."
They claim Lota, who is now 53, was captured near a salt lick in India when she was a baby, lived alone in the Milwaukee County Zoo for 30 years, was released due to aggressive behavior, and then donated to Hawthorn and "beaten into a trailer when she fell and urinated blood."
Accusations flew that Lota was subsequently diagnosed with tuberculosis and severe weight loss resulting in hip and spine protrusions and forced to perform, although chronically ill.
Cuneo, who has been charged with violating the animal welfare act many times, has denied the charges. "This elephant is so nice and pretty and fat.... She's just slow. She's like an old lady, you know."
Of the animal rights groups' complaints: "It's so awful to say this stuff because it's so untrue. How can they say this stuff?"
But this isn't the first time I've encountered an elephant story or a story the size of an elephant.
The elephant's name was "Ziggy."
Ziggy's story caught fire: Children held parades and raised pennies, U.S. soldiers in Vietnam dispatched money, and billboards mushroomed along the expressways to free the jettisoned pet of legendary showman Flo Ziegfeld. Ziggy had been chained to a wall at the Brookfield Zoo for nearly three decades.
Ziggy became "Everyman"; the symbol of what was wrong with the world. Soldiers feeling trapped in a foreign country sent letters urging Ziggy's freedom from captivity; people who couldn't escape from the Vietnam War being waged in their living rooms sent money to build a special enclosure for Ziggy.
Everyone wanted in on the act. Dozens of newspaper stories later, Life magazine weighed in and did a spread on the pitiful pachyderm.
Like Ziggy, Lota is temperamental. Like Ziggy, Lota is an Asian elephant. Like Ziggy, Lota's temperament gave her handlers headaches. Ziggy, who had entertained Ziegfeld's grandchildren when he was a baby and then was shipped to a zoo when he was of no use, was punished for attacking his handler during his musk period by being chained to a wall at the Brookfield Zoo for 30 years.
Until I happened upon Ziggy on a visit during a day off in 1969. All you could see was Ziggy's rear end because he was chained backward. And the yellowed news story about Ziggy's rampage in 1939, displayed at the front of his cell, was an outrage.
Ziggy had stood in the back of a zoo cage for 30 years, swaying to the sound of children taunting him to do the one thing he couldn't--turn around.
It wasn't easy getting the story in the paper. "Elephants don't have feelings," said my editor. But once the story broke, all hell broke loose. More than $100,000 was raised to build a separate enclosure for Ziggy, and when he was freed, the press went wild. Click. Click. Pop. Pop. Headlines.
Stories have also been written about Lota, and at last peek, the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is still offering to take the aging beast.
Sadly for Ziggy, freedom didn't last long. Once into his new enclosure, he espied a herd of female elephants next to his new home. Attempting to reach them, he lost his balance and fell into the moat separating them from his outdoor pen. Ziggy was hauled out . . . and never recovered. He died within days.
The animal lover in me believes Ziggy died happily without chains. The animal rescuer in me believes Lota needs a happy retirement in Tennessee.
And when I read that my old friend Tom Hollatz, a former newspaper copy and photo editor, died last week--I thought of Ziggy. Tom loved Ziggy's story and wrote a children's book about him.
Ziggy. Lota. Afghanistan. Iraq. Heck, life is a bummer without freedom. Especially if you're an elephant with a long memory.
Michael Sneed is seen at 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays on WMAQ-Channel 5.
On July 1, 2003, following a complaint filed with the United States Department of Agriculture, inspectors found that The Hawthorn Corporation was not in compliance regarding shade for their elephants. The facility was cited under section 3.127 for failing to provide shade from direct sunlight during the middle of the day.
U.S. Representative for Illinois's 8th District, where John Cuneo resides and where Hawthorn Corp is located:
When Lota the elephant looks back on her life and ponders her biggest regret, I'm guessing it would be that she didn't run faster the first time she encountered human beings in the wilds of India.
If you're an elephant, spending your life in captivity would be like a New York socialite being forcibly moved to the middle of the jungle where they don't even take credit cards.
I'd be more likely to eat a meaty gyro on a pita than side with PETA on most of its causes, but the story of Lota puts me in touch with my inner animal rights activist.
Photo: Lota falls while being loaded onto a truck at the Milwaukee County Zoo in November 1990.
A recently filed federal complaint accuses the Illinois circus training farm that bought Lota from the zoo of abusing the elephant.
Now in her golden years, Lota is still being abused at the Illinois circus training farm where she was sent by the Milwaukee County Zoo in 1990, according to a federal complaint recently filed against the facility.
The saga dates all the way back to 1954 when Lota and another elephant were delivered to our zoo, then at Washington Park. The animals were 4 years old, still considered babies in pachyderm circles.
A heartwarming story in the newspaper from that time tells how hunters in India hid near a salt lick that attracted a herd of elephants. "With torches and shouts" they drove the herd into a stockade they had built nearby, and 18 elephants were captured.
Pennies and nickels tossed in a jar by Milwaukee children helped pay for the elephants. The two elephants led a parade up Vliet St. to their new home and 0.0000002% of the square feet they were used to back home in India.
A girl from West Allis won a contest by suggesting the name Lota, the word for a vessel used in India to hold water. Moat was the word Lota became more familiar with.
Young Lota was described by zookeepers as "full of tricks, always looking for trouble." Well, she found trouble, and it led to a career change of performing circus tricks.
That part of the story is well known. In 1990, the zoo decided that Lota was becoming too aggressive, probably from 36 years of dodging coins and looking out at people swinging one arm in front of their faces and doing their best elephant call impression. With great strife, she was loaded on a truck and for $1 handed over to Hawthorn Corp. of Richmond, Ill., with the understanding that she would be well treated.
But Lota learned that humans don't always tell the truth. She has spent the last 13 years traveling around the country as a circus performer. Let's just say the job doesn't come with much of a health plan. The Department of Agriculture found evidence that Lota has been plagued by tuberculosis and weight loss so severe that her spine and hip bones are protruding.
John Cuneo, who runs Hawthorn, has denied the charges and says his elephants are fat and happy. But animal lovers persist in their efforts to get Lota out of his clutches and into an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee.
Carol Buckley, director of that sanctuary, thinks Milwaukee County ought to get busy rescuing Lota. Even on a good day, the circus life is cruel for elephants, she said.
"If they wanted to do the right thing for this elephant, they would do it," she said.
The zoo got rid of all of its Asian elephants and has given the space to the black rhinos, so they don't want Lota back. County Executive Scott Walker said there's nothing the county can do for Lota.
Not a whole Lota love there.
Lota has kept her side of the bargain, even though she never agreed to the deal. She has educated and entertained three generations of children and adults alike.
She's old. She's tired. Give this poor animal a rest.
by Jackie Loohauis
The northern Illinois facility that owns Lota, a former Milwaukee County Zoo elephant who became an international poster pachyderm for animal rights, now faces revocation of its license because of dozens of federal allegations of abusing Lota and other elephants.
In 1990, the zoo donated Lota to owner John Cuneo; his company trains and rents elephant acts to circuses.
The 50-year-old Lota became famous in 1990 when the Milwaukee County Zoo, citing problems with her temperament and space limitations for keeping Asian elephants, donated Lota to Cuneo, whose Hawthorn Corp. trains and rents elephant acts to circuses.
Televised video footage of Lota's removal from the zoo showed her collapsing as she was forced into a truck. The footage and Lota's circus work caused an international outpouring of sympathy for her among animal rights advocates, including actors Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Medical treatment an issue
The federal complaint filed in April includes allegations that in 2001 Cuneo and the Hawthorn Corp. "willfully violated" regulations by failing to have their attending veterinarian provide adequate veterinary care to their animals and that it specifically, "failed to obtain treatment for an Asian elephant (Lota) who was excessively thin with a protruding spine and hip bones."
The complaint goes on to claim that Cuneo and the Hawthorn Corp. "willfully violated the handling regulations by exhibiting an Asian elephant (Lota) under conditions that were inconsistent with its good health and well-being."
It also alleges that in 2001 Cuneo willfully violated regulations with other elephants.
Federal inspection reports show that Lota has had serious health problems, including tuberculosis.
An October 2001 report said that Lota was "very thin" and had a mass on her hip. A May 2002 report stated that "Lota was to gain an additional 500 pounds before going back out on the road." She had reportedly regained weight as of the last inspection last fall, according to the USDA.
Cuneo told the Journal Sentinel in a phone interview that Lota and the other elephants at the facility are now "so fat they look like dumplings."
Cuneo rejects claims that Lota has been mistreated over the years and says he plans to fight the attempt to revoke his license. He claims that the USDA and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals "are now working hand-in-hand" against his facility.
He did say that one of the 47 counts in the USDA filing was true, a charge that one of the other elephants at the facility had suffered chemical burns. He blamed the incident on a worker who had accidentally burned one of the elephants with a chemical designed to treat fungal infections. He said the burns had since healed.
The agriculture agency has investigated Hawthorn Corp. before. In 1998, the federal government fined Cuneo $60,000 and suspended his license over animal welfare act charges. In 1994, it fined Cuneo $12,500 when an elephant belonging to the Hawthorn Corp. rampaged through a crowd in Hawaii, killing one person
Lota's fate has been the subject of many battles between Cuneo and various animal advocates.
"The entire animal welfare community knows Lota very well," says Carol Buckley, executive director of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, which has repeatedly offered to take Lota. The Humane Society of the United States filed a federal lawsuit in 1992 in an unsuccessful attempt to reclaim Lota, claiming violation of the Endangered Species Act. In 1997, the Milwaukee County Board, spurred on by County Executive F. Thomas Ament, retained legal counsel to attempt to get Lota back, although the statute of limitations on the transfer had ended.
According to the Milwaukee County Zoo, which came under criticism for Lota's removal, her transfer to Cuneo was made on condition that the elephant never be forced to perform. But Lota has since performed regularly in traveling circuses.
Milwaukee County Zoo spokeswoman Jenny Diliberti says the zoo is not interested in reclaiming Lota, because the original problems with space and Lota's temperament "are still valid today."
The Council for the Retirement of Lota has written a Petition which the Elephant Sanctuary is pleased to post:
Body of Petition:
In 1990, the Milwaukee Zoo was forced to release its elephants after overwhelming evidence of the zoo's egregious elephant abuse was exposed to the public. All of the zoo's elephants were retired to sanctuaries-EXCEPT LOTA.
Lota was prevented from being retired. "Despite a public outcry, the Milwaukee Zoo DONATED Lota to the Hawthorn Corporation. The 1990 publicized transport depicted 40-year-old Lota being beaten onto a trailer, falling and urinating blood." The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) remained silent.
Although chronically ill, Hawthorn leased Lota to circuses. Like all circus animals, Lota traveled year round in unheated boxcars, deprived of water, food and ventilation - perpetually in chains and shackles. As a result of her deplorable life and living conditions, Lota contracted a human strain of tuberculosis and became severely emaciated.
Hawthorn Corporation is located in Richmond, Illinois. Hawthorn trains and leases elephant acts to circuses and facilities worldwide. For over a decade, the USDA has cited Hawthorn for failure to meet minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as defined in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Hawthorn's litany of violations frequently relate to its gross "failure to provide veterinary care" and "physical abuse of elephants."
Hawthorn is continuously cited by the USDA and has accumulated $72,500 in USDA penalties. The USDA has twice suspended Hawthorn's license. Hawthorn has repeatedly failed to comply with prescribed tuberculosis treatment protocol.. As a result, four Hawthorn elephants have died from a human strain of tuberculosis. Despite decades of flagrant animal cruelty and negligence, the USDA has made no attempt to revoke Hawthorn's license.
LOTA IS NOW 53 YEARS OF AGE. She has been enslaved for her entire life. In June 2001, Lota traveled with Walker Bros. Circus. USDA documents state that Hawthorn was cited for "failure to provide veterinary care to Lota who was excessively thin, with a protruding spine and hip bones and sunken in eyes." The inspector wrote, "It appears that Lota has lost a significant amount of weight."
On October 11, 2001, the USDA reported that Lota was in a "perilously emaciated state, with a wound on her left hip." Lota's untreated wound, documented several months earlier, had "expanded into a large, painful, fluid-filled abscess that extended down to her mid-thigh. The property manager and trainer stated that they had never seen Lota so thin. Lota was in need of foot care and had not been weighed since 1997." In 1996, Lota contracted a human strain of tuberculosis from the numerous Hawthorn employees who tested positive for tuberculosis.
Hawthorn's elephant slaves are forced to endure the daily wanton brutality of Hawthorn trainers. They cannot escape their slave masters. In 1988, USDA documents described the torture of an elephant named Tyke who was performing in a circus act. While Tyke was performing, Hawthorn handler, John Caudill (a.k.a. John Walker of Walker Bros. Circus) "was observed beating the SINGLE-TUSK African elephant IN PUBLIC to the point (where) the elephant was screaming and bending down on three legs to avoid being hit. Even when the handler walked by the elephant after this, the elephant screamed and veered away, demonstrating fear from his presence." The USDA remained silent.
Lota also travels with Walker Bros. Circus. Given Caudill's brazen attitude regarding public beatings, what horrors are endured in secret by Lota and her companions? The answer can be found in John Caudill's monstrous cruelty to a Hawthorn elephant named Delhi. In 2002, the USDA reported that "Caudill soaked Delhi's feet in UNDILUTED FORMALDEHYDE causing severe chemical burns. Delhi was found in a serious health emergency. Both of her front legs were twice their normal size and were swollen up to her chest. She could not bend her front legs at the elbows, was reluctant to bear weight on her front legs and had difficulty in walking. The attending veterinarian did not respond in a timely manner."
In fact, circus fans have witnessed and protested the horrific sadism of Hawthorn trainers. In 2001, a letter to the Chicago Sun-Times editor described the wanton brutality endured by Hawthorn elephants leased to Medinah Shrine Circus. The letter read, "When the elephants were brought behind the curtain, the trainer began verbally abusing and hitting the elephant. We watched in horror as he swung a stick with all his force and struck the elephant in the back of the leg...the elephant let out a scream that could be heard throughout the UIC Pavilion. The kids were frightened and asked me why the man was hurting the elephant." The trainer was John Caudill. Yet, Caudill remains untouched by the USDA.
In January 1995, USDA documents state that Hawthorn trainer, "David Polke, instructed Michael Pursley to command Hattie to "lay down" (sic) and then beat Hattie with an ax handle." Gentle Hattie, gave rides to children until her death in 1996. Hattie died from untreated tuberculosis at the age of twenty-six.
"...[T]rainers also used water and food deprivation and electric shock from a cattle prod on the elephants. ...[H]e witnessed Tommy Thompson, manager at Cuneo's animal facility in Richmond, Illinois, shock (hot shock) an elephant repeatedly for one-half hour in order to get the elephant to lay down (sic) and get up upon voice commands."
The USDA cited Hawthorn for "physically abusing elephants" in June 2001. The Hawthorn handler was observed "gouging an elephant named Ronnie on the trunk with a bullhook, causing an open lesion. A different handler was observed raking the back of another elephant several times with his hook during the performance." Hawthorn trainers have never been charged with FELONY animal cruelty.Despite her advanced age, deteriorated state of health and years of endured brutality, the USDA has not seized Lota from Hawthorn. IN FACT, THE USDA HAS APPROVED 53-YEAR-OLD LOTA'S RETURN TO PERFORMANCE. In 2002, Lota was reported to be 700 pounds underweight. A 35-year-old Hawthorn elephant named Joyce was 1000 pounds underweight at the time of her death.
In flagrant disregard of Joyce's death and Lota's advanced age and perilous state of health, a veterinarian made the horrific decision to return Lota to the road.
Hawthorn continues to demonstrate an arrogant defiance of USDA directives and federal law. Nevertheless, the USDA has not revoked Hawthorn's license. This long history of USDA inaction is disgraceful and untenable.
John Cuneo, CEO of the Hawthorn Corporation, has rejected all offers to retire Lota to a sanctuary. In view of this, we wrote to ELLEN MOYER, THE MAYOR OF ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND, asking for her assistance. Mayor Moyer wrote to Cuneo requesting the humane retirement of Lota. Several sanctuaries are willing to provide a permanent home for Lota.
We ask that you join Mayor Moyer in demanding the immediate and permanent retirement of Lota and the permanent revocation of Hawthorn's license.
Lota is worthless to Cuneo from a monetary and performance standpoint. MOREOVER, LOTA WAS DONATED TO CUNEO. By publicizing Lota's plight, we believe that Cuneo will realize that it is in his favor to release Lota. The strength of Mayor Moyer's request has started the momentum and we believe that Cuneo will release Lota based on a successful petition campaign.
If Lota is not currently traveling, she is warehoused in Hawthorn's compound in Richmond, Illinois. The facility has been cited by the USDA. IF LOTA IS NOT RETIRED IMMEDIATELY, SHE WILL CERTAINLY DIE. It would certainly be in Cuneo's favor to retire Lota - rather than for her to die at Hawthorn. Lota's death would create additionally bad publicity for Cuneo.
With proper medical care and a natural environment, Lota can still enjoy freedom (albeit man-made), companions and the security of a permanent home - all of which she has been denied.
Please assist us in securing this majestic individual's long overdue retirement. MORE THAN EVER, LOTA NEEDS YOUR HELP NOW.
After signing this petition, Contact John Cuneo. DEMAND THAT HE RETIRE LOTA NOW. TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR 53-YEAR-OLD LOTA.
Contact the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and URGE HER TO SEIZE LOTA NOW AND IMMEDIATELY RETIRE HER TO A SANCTUARY. Urge Secretary Veneman to PERMANENTLY REVOKE HAWTHORN'S LICENSE. Your taxpayer dollars support the USDA.
The Honorable Ann M. Veneman
U.S. Representative for Illinois's 8th District, where John Cuneo resides and where Hawthorn Corp is located:
a supporter recently reported....
Read your newsletter and called the USDA about Lota. Talked to Mr. Rogers yesterday (11/13) who told me that Lota was going to Florida. He mentioned a future article by Jackie Luhouse who writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It is an in-depth study of Lota and her condition.
He called me again today (11/14) and said that things have changed. They decided to deny permission to transport Lota to Florida in order to avoid the stress that transporting her would cause. They also denied transport of another elephant there. Was extremely happy that the USDA seemed so responsive.
I hope this is all the best for Lota.
The USDA is the sole Federal agency responsible for monitoring the welfare of performing elephants. Lota has been the subject of many inspection reports over the years. Her health problems began after her transfer from the Milwaukee Zoo to John Cuneo's Hawthorn Corporation, a company that rents elephants to circus. Lota's health deteriorated when she was sent on the road to perform in circus.
After losing hundreds of pounds and becoming increasing frail, she was finally diagnosed with the human strain of Tuberculosis, a non curable, life threatening disease. Lota spent nearly two years under treatment to control the disease and surprisingly was sent back on the road to travel and perform.
A recent USDA inspection report indicated that Lota is once again in very poor condition, again losing hundreds of pounds and has been returned to winter quarters. We will continue to monitor Lota's condition as much as is legally possible. But as long as she is considered a mere piece of property and her owner's neglect protected under the law, there is nothing the Elephant Sanctuary can do to help her.
The USDA report follows.
Negotiations have collapsed between Milwaukee County and Mr. Cuneo. After weeks of stalling, Mr. Cuneo surprised all parties concerned by informing Milwaukee County that he has changed his mind about returning Lota to their custody. After a full year of negotiations and planning Mr. Cuneo has reneged on his agreement to return Lota so that she can be retired to the Elephant Sanctuary. Legal action has not yet been taken by Milwaukee County against Mr. Cuneo in this latest turn of events.Lota Update:
In November of 1996, Lota and 15 other Hawthorn Corporation elephants were diagnosed with TB. The entire herd was sequestered and has been under treatment for the disease for the past year. Recently it was announced that all but 2 of the elephants were cleared by USDA for travel. Jim Rogers of USDA stated, "USDA never imposed quarantine on the Hawthorn elephants. Responding to the findings of attending veterinarians, USDA has released 16 of the 18 elephants for travel."