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PETA official speaks out after circus elephant escapes in Butte

PETA calls for investigation into escaped elephant in Butte
Posted at 7:50 PM, Apr 17, 2024

BUTTE — An elephant running down the middle of the road might be a great start to a good joke. That’s kind of what happened after memes started popping up from the viral video that shows an adult female elephant named Viola running down the middle of Harrison Avenue in Butte on April 16. But an activist who has been following the elephant and the circus that it belongs to says that there’s a darker side to this story.

"The animals used by Jordan World Circus and other circuses spend their lives chained and caged and then they’re forced to perform grueling tricks their entire life. Viola clearly is sick of it. She has tried repeatedly to get away from it," says Debbie Metzler, PETA's director of captive animal welfare.

Metzler says the elephant that escaped in Butte before a one-night circus performance at the Butte Civic Center has a documented history of escaping her handlers, and the escapes are detailed along with 100 other violations for Carson & Barnes Circus, a company that supplies wild animals to circus acts across the nation.

"In 2014 she suffered abrasions and lacerations after fleeing from a circus in Missouri, and in 2010 she actually slipped and fell down a ravine and hurt her shoulder and feet after running from a circus in Virginia," says Metzler.

She says disturbing undercover footage of handlers with elephants shows the abuse that circus animals are subject to.

So is Viola in the video?

"It’s hard to say. The elephants are hard to identify and there are so many. She’s probably in that video and she most certainly was trained with those techniques because as he explains in the footage this is their standard protocol," says Metzler.

Joining PETA in a call for Viola and other wild animals used in circuses to be retired to reputable sanctuaries, Laura Hagen, the director of captive wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States, released a statement after viewing the video of Viola's escape:

"Viola, along with Carson & Barnes’ other elephants—and all elephants used in the entertainment industry—should be immediately retired to an accredited sanctuary and the US Department of Agriculture must act swiftly to enforce federal law. The cruelty and danger inherent in forcing elephants and other wild animals to spend their lives in circuses, subjected to violent training and prolonged confinement, must end. The very real danger this poses to the public and first responders underscores the urgent need for state legislators to ban the use of wild animals in traveling shows once and for all."

PETA is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate Viola’s escape in Butte that a spokesperson with Oklahoma-based Carson & Barnes Circus says was caused by a car backfiring.

Metzler says along with concerns for the elephant, PETA worries about safety issues for humans.

"Viola was darting through city streets and very easily could have been injured, and she also could have very easily injured humans. So if you care about your children's safety don’t ever go to a circus that has elephants or other animals," she says.