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Owner of elephants that got stranded faced scrutiny, feds say circus didn’t violate law



OKLAHOMA CITY — A circus that owns four elephants that were briefly stranded this week along an Oklahoma roadway also had a pachyderm escape its enclosure and roam free through a Wisconsin residential neighborhood last summer, federal records show.

A female Carson & Barnes Circus elephant named Kelly got loose in June at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection report. The federal agency said in a document dated July 6 that the elephant could have been injured or hurt people.

The four elephants in Oklahoma were en route to Iowa on Wednesday when the floor began falling out of the trailer that was hauling them, leaving them stalled for about two hours awaiting another ride, according to the state Highway Patrol. The floor of the trailer was dragging on the road, sparking grass fires along the way. 

Photos of the elephants moving from one trailer to another were shared widely on social media and prompted outcries from animal rights activists. The complaints come amid increased scrutiny of elephants in circuses and other public displays. 

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, known as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” went out of business in 2017 after retiring its elephants the year before.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals continued its ongoing criticism of Hugo, Oklahoma-based Carson & Barnes after the trailer floor collapse.

“Because of this notorious circus’s total disregard for animals’ well-being, PETA urges everyone to stay away from acts and exhibitions that put exotic animals on display and risk their lives on the road,” PETA’s Rachel Mathews said in a statement Thursday.

Carson & Barnes spokeswoman Jennifer Wisener said Thursday a veterinarian examined the four elephants and that they appeared to be fine. She declined to answer other questions.

Oklahoma Trooper Dwight Durant said the elephants disembarked near Eufaula, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of Oklahoma City, after someone noticed the problem from another vehicle traveling behind the truck. One lane of traffic was blocked for a few hours while the elephants awaited a new ride.

They were transferred to another trailer and moved to a nearby veterinarian’s property before a third vehicle arrived to take them to Iowa.

“Usually here in Oklahoma it’s cows or pigs that are in the road,” Durant said. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever dealt with any elephants before.”

Back in Wisconsin, Circus World spokesman Dave Saloutos told The Associated Press in June that another female elephant, Isla, used her trunk to disengage one of Kelly’s restraints. Saloutos said Kelly then crossed a shallow river and wandered into a yard where she unlatched a gate and munched on marigolds during her couple hours of freedom.

Carson & Barnes in 2016 agreed to pay a $16,000 fine to settle a federal complaint alleging animal-welfare violations involving Missouri and Pennsylvania shows where elephants were allowed to get loose or too close to circus-goers. The circus admitted no wrongdoing as part of the consent order.

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