In Memory of Lota
1951 ~ February 9, 2005
Estimated Birth: 1951
Birth status: wild born
Captured from the wild: 1952
• Life before the Sanctuary:
- Lived at the Hyderabad Zoological Park in Andhra Pradesh, India, 1952-1954
- Lived at the Milwaukee Zoological Gardens, Wisconsin, 1954-1990
- Sold to the Hawthorn Corporation for one dollar, 1990
• Reason for coming to the Sanctuary: As result of a lawsuit filed by the USDA, Hawthorn Corporation surrendered Lota to the Sanctuary
• Moved to The Elephant Sanctuary November 17, 2004
Favorite Food: Broccoli
Lota was wild caught and
spent her first two years in captivity in a zoo
in India. She was then shipped to the Milwaukee County
Zoo in Wisconsin
where she spent the next thirty-six years. When the zoo was unable
to identify why
Lota began to bully one of her cellmates, she was sold
for one dollar to the
Hawthorn Corporation, a company that trains and rents
elephants to circuses.
Lota was broken, trained and rented out
to the Walker Brothers Circus. In
the fall of 1997, she was diagnosed with the human strain
of tuberculosis, a
disease that was prevalent in the the Hawthorn herd.
It was not until March
of 2004 that the USDA took action to ensure that Lota
and the other Hawthorn
elephants would be sent to sanctuaries, where they would
finally receive the
care and medical attention they needed.
Lota was donated to the Elephant Sanctuary
and arrived with Misty at their permanent home
November 17, 2004.
She passed away February 9, 2005.
Lota was captured near a salt lick in India when she was a baby. Lota then lived at a zoo in India until the tender age of four, at which time she was shipped to the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin. Lota lived with three other female Asian elephants at the zoo, Tamara, Annie, and Moola, together entertaining zoo visitors for thirty-six years. Under a strict regimen of keeper dominance, all of the elephants were chained by two legs to the floor of their barn for at least eighteen hours every day. Traditional free-contact management, which included force and punishment, was used to control the elephants. Training sessions that involved keepers striking the elephants with heavy-handled elephant hooks were videotaped as teaching material for incoming staff.
Although Tamara was older and the self-selected leader, Lota began to challenge her position. The zoo staff were unable to prevent Lota’s aggression against Tamara and were concerned that Lota might hurt her. After several years of failing to rectify the problem, zoo management decided to "surplus" Lota.
In 1990, the Milwaukee County Zoo sold Lota for $1 to the Hawthorn Corporation, a Richmond, Illinois, company that trains and rents elephant acts to circuses. Reportedly the contractual agreement stipulated that Lota was to be retired and not rented out. One year after her transfer, Lota was in fact leased out, and she performed regularly in traveling circuses for the next thirteen years.
The widely publicized videotape of the transport of Lota to her new home depicted 39-year-old Lota being beaten and dragged into a trailer. She had spent thirty years as a zoo elephant and had no experience being loaded and unloaded for transport. As a result, she was frightened and hesitant to enter the trailer. As the videotape clearly shows, Lota fought her chains, which finally broke, sending her falling backwards and then sliding beneath the trailer.
The televised footage of Lota's removal from the zoo and her circus work caused an international outpouring of sympathy for her among animal rights advocates, including actors Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, Bob Barker, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Lota soon became the poster child of captive pachyderms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) remained silent.
In November of 1996, Lota was diagnosed with
tuberculosis. The entire herd was sequestered, and Lota spent a year
in chains inside the Hawthorn barn.
The entire animal welfare community grew very familiar with Lota’s saga. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee repeatedly offered to take Lota. The Humane Society of the United States filed a federal lawsuit in 1992 in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue Lota, claiming violation of the Endangered Species Act. In 1997, the Milwaukee County Board and County Executive F. Thomas Ament, spurred on by PETA, retained legal counsel to attempt to get Lota freed, although the statute of limitations on the transfer had expired.
On March 30, 1999, after weeks of stalling, negotiations collapsed between Milwaukee County and John Cuneo, owner of the Hawthorn Corporation. In a surprise move, Cuneo reneged on his agreement to release Lota. Instead, Lota was again rented to circuses.
In June 2001, Lota was traveling with Walker Brothers Circus. The USDA inspected and cited Hawthorn 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 further, "It appears that Lota has lost a significant amount of weight." Nearly three years later, in March 2004, the circus pleaded guilty to 18 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, resulting in a $25,000 fine and a five-year suspension of its animal exhibition license.
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.
On May 4, 2002 the USDA’s veterinary consultant stated that Lota should not go back on the road with the circus until she gained an additional 500 pounds.
Lota and the Hawthorn Elephants
In March 2004, a lawsuit was brought by the United
States Department of Agriculture against the Hawthorn Corporation. In
the suit, the Hawthorn Corporation was charged with numerous counts
of cruelty and neglect of its 16 circus elephants. As a result, John
Cuneo agreed to relinquish his 16 elephants by August 15th, 2004 to
facilities approved by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection
The USDA asked The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee to accept six of
the Hawthorn 16. The Sanctuary had immediate barn
space for two, Lota and Misty. Both suffered from
tuberculosis and required special facilities separate
from other elephants for the duration of their
six-month treatments. Additionally, the Sanctuary
secured temporary housing for four more Hawthorn
elephants so they could undergo testing to insure
that they are disease-free. However, in order to
provide permanent sanctuary for any of the Hawthorn elephants a barn
must be built to make space for them. The Sanctuary approached animal
welfare organizations, private foundations, and individuals and raised
the $2.6 million dollars required to build a new barn and rescued three
of the Hawthorn elephants. Although the Sanctuary would like to rescue
the remaining 12 Hawthorn elephants, that is possible only if the funds
can be raised to care for them. The fundraising efforts continue.
Some of the Hawthorn elephants have lived together for decades. Most
are aged and in poor health. Separating them from
one another could inflict extreme emotional trauma.
Additionally, this herd represents a wealth of information about the
life-threatening disease TB that plagues captive elephants. The Sanctuary
wants to establish a world-class health and welfare program that will
keep the Hawthorn elephants together and, through noninvasive research,
benefit many captive elephants around the world.
How You Can
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is a nonprofit
organization which receives no state or federal funding. By deciding
to accept and care for Lota and the other Hawthorn elephants, The
Sanctuary will incur significant costs. The associated costs include
renovation of a quarantine barn, construction of a new Asian-elephant
barn, and preparation of a secure outside area to which Lota and Misty have
sole access, all necessary in order properly to manage their care,
diet, and medication. The cost to care for one healthy elephant
is about $200,000 per year. The medical care and treatment required
for these two TB-positive elephants could be significantly more
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is a nonprofit organization that
relies on the kind donations of individuals, corporations, and foundations
to provide a haven for old, sick and needy elephants.
Lota and the Media
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee would like to thank the following journalists and their respective newspapers for covering Lota’s plight over the years and advocating her release:
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Journal Sentinel
Media coverage for Lota