The animal-welfare group had protested the Houston stop of Oklahoma-based Carson & Barnes, a traveling big-top circus that in 2015 allowed an elephant named Nina to lose 500 pounds in the months before finally dying, and missed signs that a pygmy hippo had a chronic disease before it, too, died.
In July 2016, PETA posted a video it claimed showed behind-the-scenes footage of Carson & Barnes animal trainers using bull hooks — picture, if you will, a fireplace poker — to get an elephant named Becky to stand on a stool.
In a press release, PETA's Rachel Mathew said, "A life of shackles and shopping malls is no life at all for elephants and other highly sensitive, intelligent animals. As audiences nationwide shun circuses that still force animals to perform, PETA is urging other companies to follow West Oaks Mall's kind and business-savvy example by rejecting all animal acts."
However, according to Carson & Barnes's website, its animals "are provided quality care that is enriching, healthy and comfortable." The company considers itself a "proud advocate of animal welfare" states that it "complies with all federal, state, and local regulations, in addition to its own internal animal-care guidelines." Bottom line: The folks at Carson & Barnes say its animals "are an integral part of our family." Which, without knowing the Carson & Barnes family dynamics, could totally be true.
Based on the surreptitious PETA video, it's certainly no family reunion we'd want to attend, what with one trainer egging on his bull-hook-wielding partner to sink the weapon into Becky's foot. "Tear it off! Make 'em scream!" the trainer shouts to his partner.
The video also shows one of the trainers — who clearly patterns himself after the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket — instructing two others by saying, "Hurt 'em, don't touch 'em. Make 'em scream...If you're scared to hurt 'em, don't come in the barn."
And, in case the point was lost, the trainer admonishes, "When I say, 'rip his head off, rip his fucking foot off,' what does that mean? It's very important that you do it."
At this point, a layman might ask, Sure — but what if the elephant starts squirming too much?
Fortunately, the trainer has some sage advice: Swing the bull hook like a baseball bat right in the elephant's head.
"When he starts squirming too fucking much, [take] both fucking hands — BOOM! — right under that chin," the trainer advises.
Still, Becky may have had it easier than an elephant named Nina, who according to a January 2015 USDA inspection report had been "losing weight and in thin body condition since early 2013. This animal lost 500 lbs during the 7-8 months leading up to the inspection, yet...there was not a mechanism in place to provide timely and accurate information on this animal's health and well-being to the consulting veterinarian in charge of her veterinary care."
The same report notes the premature death of a hippo named Katie, who "was noted to be losing weight and not doing well while traveling for exhibition purposes in May 2014." Even after Katie was returned to the circus's home facility in Oklahoma, medication was prescribed, but there were "no records to show if the treatment was given."
We put calls in to Carson & Barnes and West Oaks Mall and will update accordingly.