Dover, Del. — After filing two complaints with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the physical safety and psychological well-being of two elephants, PETA has learned that the agency has now filed formal charges against the Cole Bros. Circus. The circus is scheduled to perform in Dover from August 31 to September 1. PETA had pointed out that two elephants, Tina and Jewell, were forced to travel and perform despite being hundreds of pounds underweight and were sent to an unlicensed exhibitor with a long history of violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The more than 10 charges filed against Cole Bros. by the USDA include failure to provide adequate veterinary care to the elephants and failure to hire personnel capable of caring for them.

In 2009, the USDA felt that the case was so serious that the agency confiscated Jewell and also removed Tina. However, Cole Bros. continues to use other elephants in old-fashioned circus acts, and PETA recently sent the USDA alarming video footage taken at the Cole Bros. Circus in Lanesboro, Mass., on June 17 that shows a handler who repeatedly struck an elephant using a bullhook (a rod with a solid steel-pointed end that resembles a fireplace poker), including forcefully hitting the animal twice in the face. Also in June, the USDA cited an elephant exhibitor with Cole Bros. for multiple violations of the AWA, including the use of “excessive force while tugging at” an elephant by digging a bullhook into her flesh.

“We hope that the USDA’s action against Cole Bros. puts circuses on notice that if they treat animals cruelly, justice will be sought,” says PETA Director Delcianna Winders. “We ask the public not to take children to animal circuses because attendance supports suffering.”

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A list of the violations named in the charges follows.

The violations of the Animal Welfare Act for which the USDA has filed formal charges against the Cole Bros. Circus include the following:


  • Failure to provide adequate veterinary care to an underweight elephant with a prominent spine and sunken body image
  • Failure to have records for vet exams and tuberculosis tests
  • Failure to handle an elephant in a way that minimizes the risk of harm to the public and the elephant
  • Failure to employ personnel capable of caring for elephants
  • Failure to house elephants at a facility that could provide for their needs
  • Failure to follow recommendations of an elephant specialist—a willful violation
  • Failure to store medications properly
  • Transporting elephants to another person who was not equipped to care for them against the recommendation of an elephant specialist
  • Inadequate enclosures
  • Handlers who lacked training and knowledge and weren’t regularly onsite


  • Employing a handler who lacked training, knowledge, and experience
  • Selling tigers without a dealer license