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Posted on Apr 28, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Gretchen Mogensen

Gretchen Mogensen

Gretchen Mogensen Supporting Joe Exotic in Wynnewood Cub Petting Compound

PETA Calls On Feds to Hold Former Natural Bridge Zoo Employees Responsible for Alleged Unlawful Animal Transport

February 5, 2015

Contact: David Perle 202-483-7382

Myrtle Beach, S.C. – PETA sent an urgent letter today calling on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to investigate Gretchen Mogensen and Paul Malagerio for reportedly fleeing Virginia with two cougars and a tiger from the notorious Natural Bridge Zoo, transporting the animals across state lines to a Myrtle Beach roadside zoo known as T.I.G.E.R.S. The pair was recently exposed on video striking tiger cubs in the face while peddling photo opportunities with the cats at Natural Bridge Zoo. PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—is asking the FWS to hold the exhibitors accountable for apparently violating the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which prohibits the interstate transport of big cats by unlicensed individuals.

This apparently illegal transport proves, once again, that the priority of these animal exploiters is profit, not the well-being of the animals or respect for the laws designed to protect these animals,“This apparently illegal transport proves, once again, that the priority of these animal exploiters is profit, not the well-being of the animals or respect for the laws designed to protect these animals,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “PETA is calling on the authorities to show that these individuals can’t get away with abusing animals, apparently breaking the law, or fleeing the scrutiny they’re under.”

Since 2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has cited Natural Bridge Zoo owner Karl Mogensen—Gretchen Mogensen’s father—for 78 violations of federal animal-protection laws, including, among others, failure to provide animals with adequate veterinary care, clean drinking water, adequately heated housing, and safe and secure enclosures.

T.I.G.E.R.S. is no less notorious: Its owner, Bhagavan Antle, has a decades-long history of violating federal animal-protection laws, including recent citations for failing to house dozens of adult tigers in secure enclosures and allowing one 700-pound tiger to escape into a group of visitors.


During the spring, summer and early fall of 2014, an HSUS investigator went undercover at the Natural Bridge Zoo (NBZ), a tawdry and troubled roadside zoo located in rural Natural Bridge, Virginia, and owned and operated by Karl and Debbie Mogensen. NBZ breeds and sells numerous exotic animals to the pet trade, individuals, other roadside zoos, at
auctions and to canned hunt facilities. The Mogensens are affiliated with the Zoological Association of America, a small, deceptively named fringe group that accredits poorly run roadside zoos and supports indiscriminate and unhealthy breeding practices along with the exotic pet trade.

Karl Mogensen’s daughter, Gretchen, breeds tiger cubs for use in moneymaking photo shoots and private play sessions at NBZ. During our investigation, five tiger cubs were born and immediately taken from their mother, Bhuva. Two of the cubs, named Daxx and Deja, were kept by NBZ for a few months while their three siblings were sent to T.I.G.E.R.S., an exotic animal compound in South Carolina that engages in the same cub breeding that has caused an over-population problem and warehousing of these magnificent animals.

Read the rest here:


16-0042 Gretchen K. Mogensen
Respondent’s Response to Petitioner’s January
28, 2016, Letter Filed by: Attorney for Respondent More here:’s%20Log%20February%2025,%202016.pdf


Animal Exploiters under Fire for Apparently Illegally Transporting Big Cats

States News Service February 5, 2015

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — The following information was released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA):

PETA sent an urgent letter today calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to investigate Gretchen Mogensen and Paul Malagerio for reportedly fleeing Virginia with two cougars and a tiger from the notorious Natural Bridge Zoo, transporting the animals across state lines to a Myrtle Beach roadside zoo known as T.I.G.E.R.S. The pair was recently exposed on video striking tiger cubs in the face while peddling photo opportunities with the cats at Natural Bridge Zoo. PETA-whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”-is asking the FWS to hold the exhibitors accountable for apparently violating the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which prohibits the interstate transport of big cats by unlicensed individuals. More:


HSUS: reveals results of undercover investigation of Natural Bridge Zoo


Update: In a statement to ABC 13, USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa confirmed, “We do have an open investigation at this time, and as such, it is inappropriate for me to comment further,” in reference to the complaint filed with the federal agency by the Humane Society of the United States against the Natural Bridge Zoo.

The roadside zoo, was inspected multiple times in 2014 by the USDA, which is responsible for issuing permits that allow the zoo to exhibit exotic and endangered species, such as tigers and giraffes, but inspectors only found the zoo “non-compliant” in two of them.{}Currently the zoo is licensed as being in compliance under the federal Animal Welfare Act with an expiration of August 2015, ABC 13 learned.

HSUS President and CEO, Wayne Pacelle, wants the USDA to revoke the zoo’s permit permanently. {}The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also confirmed to ABC 13 that is also conducting and investigation based on the HSUS’ complaint. It can only issue permits for exhibiting native animal species, of which the zoo, claims to have “four cougars,” on premises.

Robert “Bucky” Joyce, Rockbridge Commonwealths’ Attorney, told ABC 13 he wasn’t aware of any criminal complaints that had been filed against the zoo, but that didn’t mean that there aren’t any filed through other state agencies.{}Calls by ABC 13 to zoo owner Karl Mogenson were not returned today.

Natural Bridge., VA- The Humane Society of the United States announced a months long results from two undercover investigations at roadside zoos today. The HSUS says inhumane treatment of tiger cubs exploited for photographic opportunities, indiscriminate breeding of tigers, rampant trade in cubs for public handling and dumping of the cubs once they were no longer profitable. The HSUS conducted the investigations at Tiger Safari in Oklahoma and Natural Bridge Zoo in Rockbridge, Virginia. The non-profit ground says these roadside zoos allow members of the public to pet, feed, pose and play with baby tigers for a fee.

The investigation of the Natural Bridge Zoo, was conducted from May 6th through October 7th of last year and the HSUS has filed criminal complaints and violation of animal welfare act with both the state attorney and USDA. In a press conference Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS revealed that the investigations documented the very lucrative business of using infant tigers for public photo shoots and other moneymaking events – fees ranged from $50 to $1,000 per session. Video footage graphically revealed the distress and abuse endured by the endangered animals used for this practice.

Pacelle says tiger cubs were forcibly separated from their mothers during birth and the first few months of their lives were dictated exclusively by public handling schedules. Cubs who were tired, overheated, thirsty, hungry or sick were required to sit still for a parade of paying customers.Pacelle told the media that the investigations also provided a snapshot of the unfettered breeding of big cats for the exploitation of their cubs, the resulting surplus of adult big cats, and the animal welfare and public safety implications when large cubs are discarded after ceasing to be profitable. He went on to say, that the zoos, discard of the baby tiger cubs to organizations that use them for canned hunts, other inhumane roadside zoo operations or use of the animals for body parts.

“Our investigations revealed never-before seen abuse, neglect, and the over breeding that goes on behind the scenes at these tiger cub handling operations. We must put an end to this dangerous and cruel business,” Pacelle said. {}In a written response, to the Associated Press, Natural Bridge Zoo owner Karl Mogensen called the allegations “slanderous” and “vicious propaganda” aimed at soliciting donations. He also denied the accusations.



Father, daughter charged with not properly caring for animals at Florida, Virginia zoos

GULF BREEZE, Fla. –  Federal officials filed a complaint accusing the owners of a Florida zoo of failing to properly care for the animals.

The charges by the U.S. Department of Agriculture say the 50-acre Gulf Breeze Zoo wasn’t properly supervised when a child was bitten by a camel. The tiger enclosure didn’t have proper ventilation and other animal enclosures had rusted fences and exposed nails, according to the complaint.

Owner Eric Mogensen and his daughter, Meghan, were charged with multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the Gulf Breeze facility, as well as two other facilities they own in Virginia, according to the Florida Daily News ( .

Emails and a phone message left at the zoo were not immediately returned Sunday.


Information from: Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.),


Virginia zoo director guilty of drowning wallaby in bucket of water before tossing in dumpster

Reston Zoo Director Meghan Mogensen, 26, found guilty of animal cruelty and illegal possession of animal anaesthetics

Police say Mogensen claimed to have humanely killed the wallaby after it suffered an eye injury

A necropsy and toxicology test found no sign of drugs or needle punctures as claimed by the director

Former zoo curator who discovered the wallaby’s body claims the death is just the tip of others inhumanely killed including rabbits bashed against walls


PUBLISHED: 10:38 EST, 29 September 2012 | UPDATED: 11:30 EST, 29 September 2012

Guilty: Reston Zoo Director Meghan Mogensen, 26, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for animal cruelty and illegal possession of animal anaesthesia

A Virginia zoo director has been found guilty of animal cruelty after drowning an injured wallaby in a bucket of water.

Reston Zoo Director Meghan Mogensen, 26, was sentenced to 30 days in jail on Friday after the body of the adult wallaby named Parmesan was recovered soaking in a plastic bag last January by a now former employee.

That former zoo curator turned whistleblower, Ashley Rood, testified that the wallaby’s death was just the tip of inhumane killings undertaken by the director that included rabbits slammed into walls, chickens fed to pythons and others plainly shot.

It was an eye injury sustained by Parmesan while hopping around its pen on January 26th that led to its barbaric death and disposal at the hands of the director, according to Rood.
‘I ripped open the bag and I saw the animal and it solidified it for me,’ Rood described to ABC7 of finding the wallaby’s body soaking in one of the park’s dumpsters.

From what started as a bandage on Parmesan’s left eye and his placement by zookeepers in a plastic crate for his recovery, Rood said the animal managed to bang his head, further puncturing his eye which started bleeding.

According to Rood, Ashley Mogensen asked the zoo’s owner, Eric Mogensen, what to do. He told her to euthanize the animal, a decision that ‘dumbfounded’ Rood who believed its injuries could be treated.

‘I didn’t think the eye could be salvaged but it could be removed by a vet,’ Rood said, according to the Vienna Patch. ‘I told [Ashley Mogensen] other than that, he appears perfectly fine.’

Killed: The wallaby named Parmesan, pictured, was recovered wrapped inside a garbage bag with tests finding neither sign of a needle’s injection or a drug in the animal’s body
Rood claimed Mogensen retorted with: ‘These animals are Eric’s property, and we need to do what he wants with them.’

Mogensen, according to Rood, said she’d ‘take care of it’ and sent her on an errand after she expressed not wanting anything to do with its euthanasia.

Returning to find the wallaby missing from its enclosure and a bucket of water one-quarter of the way full sitting nearby, Rood said she put two and two together and raced to a dumpster to find the animal soaking wet while wrapped inside a trash bag.

Rood immediately announced her resignation and called local authorities.

‘I told Meghan “I think you and your father are sick, sadistic people and I am not going to be a part of it anymore,” said Rood. ‘It is one thing to euthanize them. It is another thing to drown them.’

Appealing: Morgensen, seen holding a baby kangaroo in 2011, plans to appeal the guilty verdict

Injury: Parmesan had suffered an eye injury while hopping around its pen, one that the zoo’s curator believed could be treated instead of being killed

Responding authorities who saw the animal’s body were told that Mogensen had just washed the wallaby -reasoning its wet condition – after humanely euthanizing it with an IV injection of Beuthanasia-D. They turned critical when seeing the zoo didn’t have permits or training to legally administer the drug.

Ordering a necropsy and toxicology test on the body, expert witnesses also reported finding neither sign of a needle’s injection or a drug in the animal’s body.

Instead there were ruptured blood vessels in its lungs along with plant matter and bacteria consistent with a drowning, according to Jaime Weisman, veterinary  diagnostician with the Virginia Department of Agriculture who was one of 15 witnesses who testified on behalf of prosecutors.

Mogensen has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $1,000 for the animal cruelty charge along with a $250 fine and six month suspensions of her driver’s license for illegal possession of animal anaesthetics.

Whistleblower: That curator Ashley Rood, pictured, said she called authorities who recovered the body which the director said was humanely killed and only wet because of a bath

String of abuse: The curator claims that the wallaby’s death was the breaking point for her after previous animal killings at the zoo allegedly involved banging rabbits against walls and shooting them

Asked by the judge if she had anything to say before her verdict’s reading, Mogensen did not speak, in addition to not testifying during the trial.

‘I don’t wish anything bad for the zoo, there are so many animals there that I love and there are people who work there that do really love what they do and I know it’s hard for them right now,’ Rood told WUSA after the trial whose verdict she described being a major relief to her.

Meghan Mogensen is said by her attorneys to be appealing the charges against her.

‘She was concerned about this animal,’ Defence Attorney Caleb Kershner said in his closing statement according to the Washington Post. ‘It was suffering.’

Other zoos owned by Eric Mogensen have been scrutinized in recent years while this was the first against the Reston Zoo, according to the Post which also lists the current allegations of additional inhumane animal killings within the zoo according to Rood.

A request for comment by the Reston Zoo was not immediately returned on Saturday.

Read more:


Legal Name (DBA):
Customer No: 2468
Certificate No: 52-C-0035
Certificate Status: ACTIVE
Status Date: Jan 2, 1960


Owned and operated by the Mogensen family.











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Posted on Apr 27, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Jungle Habitat Zoo

Jungle Habitat Zoo Sets Up Shop in Florida

This week it was reported that Jungle Habitat Zoo, a traveling exhibitor that exploits a variety of exotic animals including big cats, would be joining forces with the owner of Nosey the elephant to operate a permanent roadside zoo in Kissimmee, Florida.

Jungle Habitat Zoo is an on demand traveling zoo that displays wild animals in parking lots across the country. Charging only 1 dollar for entry, their profits come from highly stressful and unsafe animal encounters. They also engage in the pay to play cub-petting scheme, offering visitors photo ops with young tiger cubs.

​Cub petting is the #1 cause of big cat abuse in the US. ​(Learn more about cub petting at Roadside zoos such as Jungle Habitat Zoo do nothing to benefit conservation of these animals in the wild and only proliferate the exploitation, abuse, and neglect of wild cats.

Nosey the elephant has sadly become a symbol of captive wildlife abuse. The USDA has repeatedly cited Nosey’s owner, Hugo Tommy Liebel and the Liebel Family Circus, for repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act. And for years animal welfare advocates have extensively documented Nosey’s lonely and painful life. Learn more about Nosey at this site

Please join us in taking a stand against the ​use of big cats and other wild animals in roadside zoos. Take the pledge to be a Big Cat Friendly Tourist, thereby assuring the owners of such facilities and the communities in which they operate that the public does not support the exploitation of tigers, elephants, ​or any​ other exotic animals for entertainment.

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Posted on Apr 26, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name, Most Wanted | 0 comments

Doc Antle – T.I.G.E.R.S (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species)

Doc Antle – T.I.G.E.R.S (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species)

AKA Kevin Antle, Bhagavan Antle, Rare Species Fund, Preservation Station

USDA cites for recurring problems with ringworm on the tiger cubs.


Ringworm is easily spread from infected cubs to those who touch them.



Exploiting tiger cubs. In our opinion, Kevin Antle (who calls himself “Doc” because he supposedly earned a doctor of natural sciences degree from the Chinese Science Foundation according to one report. Note that there does not appear to be a Chinese Science Foundation on the Internet) is one of the most notorious exploiters of tiger cubs in the country.  Antle operates two facilities in Myrtle Beach, SC that offer cub handling and photo ops for a fee.  One is a retail location called Preservation Station in a tourist area of town near the beach.  The other is his zoo or park.

He incessantly breeds tiger cubs to use to make money at these locations.  From what we are told by visitors, the cubs are taken to the retail location where they are subjected to being placed with and handled by person after person paying to have their photos taken with the cubs for a number of hours each day.  Then the cubs are taken back to the zoo, where they are subjected to more handling and photos.  Antle also takes cubs on the road to exhibit far from home at fairs or other venues, forcing the tiny cubs to ride long distances in a truck only to be  handled by person after person for hours to make money.

Cubs used by exhibitors to make money from handling are typically torn from their mothers shortly after birth, a torment to both cub and mother.  They are deprived of the comfort and nutrition of nursing and grooming by the mothers, subjected to unnatural levels of stress that lower their immune systems, and typically not allowed the natural amount and timing of sleep in order to satisfy customers.  For more about cub handling in general see Cub Handling Factsheet

Where do Antle’s cubs end up? USDA guidance states that cubs should not be handled at under 8 weeks of age because their immune systems are not sufficiently developed, and not handled at over 12 weeks because they are classified as “juvenile” and dangerous.  This creates a four week “window” during which cubs can be handled if exhibitors comply with the guidance.  (NOTE: We and other much larger animal welfare organizations have been urging to USDA to close this 8-12 week “window” by banning cub petting altogether to stop the widespread abuse of cubs used for petting.)

One visitor reported they were told by handlers that Antle starts using the cubs at 3 weeks of age, ignoring USDA guidance designed to protect the health of the cubs.  Even so, there is only a brief period during which the cubs can be handled.  So, Antle must steadily breed cubs to use in this money generating business.  But, according to his USDA census, he only houses 51 tigers at his park.

Where do all these cubs go when they are too old for him to use to make money? There is no way to know how many of these tigers end up living miserable lives in conditions compassionate people who care about animals would consider inhumane.  Per the report by TRAFFIC, the worldwide organization that tracks trade in exotic animals, the lack of tracking of tigers in the U.S. means there is also no way to know how many tigers end up being slaughtered for their parts to make “derivatives” like alleged medicines and tiger bone wine.

Visitors who have tried asking where the tigers end up tell us that they get evasive answers.  According to one Animal Welfare Act violation case and “Animal Underworld,” Alan Green’s excellent book exposing the illegal trade in exotic animals, that two of Antle’s tigers ended up in the hands of Mario Tabruae.  Tabruae was arrested in the late 80’s for heading a 10 year drug smuggling ring.  His Zoological Imports business was featured in Green’s book.  Some of Antle’s animals have ended up at GW Park in Oklahoma, another notorious exhibitor of tiger cubs.

Unsafe exhibition of adult tigers – USDA lawsuit.  Antle used to make money photographing visitors in close proximity to big cats with no barrier to protect the public.  In 2005 the USDA told him he was violating the safety rule that prohibits exhibiting without sufficient distance and/or barriers between the animals and the public.  Antle sued USDA claiming his procedures complied with the rules.  His case was so lacking in merit that he lost on summary judgment.  He then appealed, and lost again.  In our opinion, the idea that someone could safely stand within touching distance of an adult big cat is absurd because there is no way any “handler” can restrain a big cat that decides to attack.  Antle made his argument despite the fact that, according to reports, in 1991 one if his lions who was posing with a female model bit her  head resulting in 50 stitches and a $75,000 civil suit judgment against him.

Investigations, violations and injuries.  Antle has a 20+ year history of USDA and/or state agency investigations and/or violations including hitting tigers, injuries, transporting animals without proper health tests and papers and containing them in areas that were too small,  unclean, unsound and/or inadequate.  A chronology of those violations appears below.

Breeding ligers and tigons and color variations.  Antle is known for breeding hybrids between lions and tigers and color variations that do not occur in nature and have no conservation value according to experts.  Their only apparent purpose is to draw visitors to see what in our opinion are freaks.

Helping conservation?  Antle is a clever marketer who positions himself as making a significant contribution to conservation in the wild.  Visitors are given literature that may cause them to think that Antle makes a significant contribution to conservation.  Antle claims to have a “nonprofit grassroots organization” called the Rare Species Fund that donates to conservation in the wild.  In our search, we were unable to find an entity of this name listed as a nonprofit by the IRS.   We were not even able to find an entity with this name in South Carolina Secretary of State records.  It appears to be simply a fictional name Antle uses.  Antle’s brochure claims RSF is “among the world’s most effective conservation agencies.”  The literature says that since the founding of RSF in 1982 it has provided “more than $200,000 to wildlife conservation effort.”  This comes to less than $10,000 each year on average.  This is likely to be a tiny fraction of the amount Antle makes from his for profit tours and animal handling fees.  We are unable to find any financial reporting or disclosure related to this alleged entity.  One of the groups Antle’s literature says he works with as part of his alleged conservation work is the Feline Conservation Federation (FCF).  This is a group that advocates the private pet ownership of exotic animals that we believe leads to many animals living in what we consider to be miserable conditions and creates danger to the owners and public.

Tiger escape.  Antle used to also keep a few tigers and other animals at Jungle Island in Miami.  In August 2010 one his tigers escaped, sending visitors scattering.  Fortunately the tiger was recaptured without anyone being attacked, although a news report indicated four people were treated for minor injuries.  Antle was cited by USDA twice in the months following the escape for continuing to keep tigers in an inadequate enclosure.  It appears from our research that by January 2012 he had transferred ownership of the animals to another licensee and did not renew his permits to keep animals in Florida.

Lies regarding critics.  Because exploiters of tiger cubs have no true basis for justifying their mistreatment of the animals, they typically try to discredit critics with false statements about the critics. Antle is no exception.  Big Cat Rescue in Tampa has made exposing what we view as abuse of tiger cubs a priority.  In response, Antle makes false statements and points to websites set up by other exploiters containing false statements about Big Cat Rescue and Founder Carole Baskin.  Among his lies have been claims that he is the copyright holder of photos Big Cat Rescue posted to expose his operation.  When challenged under the provisions of the Digital Media Copyright Act, Antle was unable to back up his lies and the images were reinstated.

Chronology of Citations/Investigations/Escape/Injuries from news reports and government documents

Nov 16, 2010 cited again for tiger enclosures that were no different from the one that enabled an escape in Aug 2010.

Sept 10, 2010 cited for failing to house the tiger who had previously escaped in a cage that was any different from the one he had escaped from on Aug 28.

Aug 28, 2010 Visitors to Miami’s Jungle Island were treated to a scarily authentic experience when a tiger sprang from its pen at the tropical tourist attraction.  Hundreds of terrified guests ran for safety when the big cat, known as Mahesh, broke out of its enclosure. According to MSNBC, the 3-year-old tiger spent an hour enjoying its newfound freedom before being recaptured.

June 8, 2010 failed to have a person of legal age available at Miami’s Jungle Island site to let the USDA inspect the facility.

May 10, 2009 As an example of where Antle’s tigers end up, in AWA Docket No. 09-0085 the judge found that Bhagavan Antle released two tigers to Ray Thunderhawk, who had already lost his USDA license  and who had abandoned 75 tigers in Palm Bay, Florida.  Thunderhawk ran a “pay to play” operation whereby patrons pay to pet and pose with big cats and he took the two tigers from Antle in S.C. to Boston before taking them to the buyer in Miami.  The buyer was Mario S. Tabruae of Zoological Imports 2000 located at 16225 SW 172 Av Miami, FL 33187.  Tabruae admitted to falsifying records to make it look as if he had purchased directly from Antle and that Antle had delivered the tigers.  Dec 12, 1987 New York Times reports that Mario S.Tabruae was arrested for:

A drug-smuggling ring that killed an informer and cut up his body while trafficking in a half-million pounds of marijuana has been broken, the Federal authorities said today.  The ring also bribed police officers to protect their operation, said Richard Gregorie, the chief assistant United States Attorney here. At one time, the indictment charged, members of the ring used Miami police officers to collect, count and disburse drug profits.

The ring operated for at least 10 years, smuggling the marijuana, along with some cocaine, into Louisiana and Florida, Mr. Gregorie said.  Six of the seven people indicted in the case were arrested here by a special Federal law-enforcement group combatting drug smuggling. The seventh was in custody in another state. $50,000 Caught by Agent Among those arrested were the men who the authorities said headed the ring, Mario Tabraue and his father, Guillermo. When the men were arrested at their homes in Dade County, Mario Tabraue’s wife tossed a bundle of $50,000 in cash out the back window, said Lloyd E. Dean, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation here. The money was caught by a Federal agent, Mr. Dean said.

December 1994 Antle was fined $1000 for transporting a bull and cow without proper health tests and papers. He was also cited for night boxes that were too small for zebras, wolf hybrids and tigers.

July 6, 1994 US Department of Agriculture investigation for failing to supply proper travel papers in Kodak, TN in Sevier County.  Antle was also associated with a second investigation into the legality of whether interstate transportation and exchange of baby tiger cubs. Antle was also under investigation because one of his tigers bit a trainer who was visiting Antle’s Buckingham Zoological Park in Virginia.

Dec 1993 transporting a bull and cow without proper health tests/papers in Kodak, TN in Sevier County

May 1992 Sharp wire was at the top of the zebra fence.

Nov 1991 An electric cord from a space heater dangled within reach of an elephant.

Oct 11, 1991 charged with hitting his tigers in Carver, MA in Plymouth County.  Antle and his handlers were seen hitting wild cats at a fair according to the Animal Rescue League of Boston.  Antle stated he hit the tigers when they became too aggressive.

Another investigation found that Antle allowed people to have their pictures taken with the animals, failed to list a cougar among the animals he brought to the state and had overstayed his permit according to Tom French, assistant director of the Massachusetts Division of Wildlife.  Antle at that point was asked to leave Carver, MA within 24 hours.

According to one report, Antle returned to Massachusetts without the knowledge of wildlife officials under the guise of other company names, and at the time that led the Massachusetts wildlife department to declare that it would not issue any more permits to Antle.   However, they apparently have, since he reportedly has been performing at a fair there for decades.

Oct 9, 1991 lion named Arthur bit a model during a photo shoot requiring 50 stitches in Manchester, NH in Hillsborough County.  Antle allowed a Konica lion named Arthur to pose for pictures with a Bedford, NH model.  Shannon Audley, 23, of Bedford, NH was injured when the 6-year-old lion opened its mouth and clamped down on one side of her head. Audley’s head was cut, and she was admitted to Catholic Medical Center where she needed more than 50 stitches to close the wounds to her head and was hospitalized for about 5 days.  Audley also had to undergo a series of rabies shots because Antle left the state with the lion and it couldn’t be determined if the lion had received a rabies vaccination.

Audley was awarded $75,000 in her lawsuit against Antle, under a default judgment.  A default judgment is entered when a defendant takes no action to contest a claim against him.  Audley was seeking $250,000.  Audley also filed a suit against Bill Melton, the Manchester, NH photographer, but the court dismissed that action.  Antle claimed the model was cut falling off a platform.

Sept 1991 The pit of a young zebra was called inadequate and exposed nails were found in animal enclosures in at least 2 inspections.

Aug 21, 1991 Antle was assessed a $3500 penalty to avoid litigation over 7 alleged violations, including animal enclosures that were unclean and structurally unsound and supplying incomplete travel and identification records.  He did not have to admit innocence or guilt as a result of the order.  Kodak, TN in Sevier County  As of July 14, 1994 the penalty has not been paid.

July 1991 Antle was cited for unclean and unsound animal enclosures, incomplete travel and ID records. Monkeys were kept too close to coyotes and a baboon across from a jaguar.  An exhibit site for an elephant had no way of preventing the animal from entering a highway if it got away from the trainer. Kodak, TN in Sevier County

1991 Antle came home from his tiger roadshow to an outstanding misdemeanor warrant issued by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.  It charges him of letting a tiger come in contact with the general public at a 1990 bodybuilding contest in Sevierville. It was served on him and carries a $50 fine if he’s convicted.

December 1989 Federal inspectors find zoo vacated with deer and peacocks left behind in Buckingham, VA


Antle Tiger Escape at Jungle Island August 2010

August 29, 2010 Miami, FL: Visitors to Miami’s Jungle Island stampeded over each other to avoid an escaped, 3 yr old, 500 lb. tiger named Mahesh. A monkey escaped while being transported through the zoo and 500 lb. Mahesh bounded over the 14-foot fence into the public area according to the Miami Herald. The attraction’s three big cats — which include a liger and a white tiger — have been confined to a “night kennel,” while the park investigates. “We were really scared. There were people crying,” Miami mom Dorothy Evans told the Herald, adding that people knocked each other down as they sprinted toward the shelter. “People were running for their lives,” Larry Rhodes, 46, of Pompano Beach, told the Sun Sentinel. Miami Fire Rescue Lt. Ignatius Carroll told the Herald that several people were injured while running, including a mother who fell on top of her 15-month old baby. Another guest was taken to a Miami hospital after suffering a panic attack.  Bhagavan (Kevin) Antle, who also owns T.I.G.E.R.S. in Myrtle Beach, SC and who is the owner of Mahesh, was charged with one count of maintaining captive wildlife in an unsafe condition, resulting in threats to public safety. Park owner Bern M. Levine was charged with two second-degree misdemeanors for conditions resulting in the animals’ escape. The charges for both men have a maximum penalty of $500, FWC officer Pino said. Source Time and others.

About Antle in the book Animal Underworld

Page 35 of Alan Green’s book Animal Underworld: “An animal handler who has claimed to also own an Exxon tiger is Bhagavan Kevin Antle, who was an assistant to Jack Hanna during his appearances on Good Morning America and Late Night With David Letterman. Known alternatively as Kevin Bhagavan, Kevin Antle, Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle, Ghagavan Antle, and Dr. Kevin Antle (he supposedly earned a doctor of natural sciences degree from the Chinese Science Foundation), Antle also claimed to own the MGM lion, even though Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. sent him a cease-and-desist letter, and he implied in his literature an affiliation with Greenpeace, until he was told to cease and desist. Antle is a self-described big-cat conservationist who presides over The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS), which operates a mobile petting zoo, leases tigers for TV commercials, and charges people at shopping malls and festivals to have their pictures taken with an animal. Antle hauls around a crossbred lion and tiger to such places as casinos in Biloxi, Mississippi. He is also known for owning a lion that, in 1991, had to be pulled off a terrified model during a photo shoot in Manchester, New Hampshire. That same year, the federal government charged Antle with repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including substandard housing for big cats, and to settle the charges he agreed to pay a $3,5000 fine. He was also cited in Massachusetts that year for illegally displaying his cats, and he was threatened with arrest and confiscation of the animals if he didn’t immediately leave the state. What’s more, Antle was the target of an unsuccessful 1991 Tennessee lawsuit regarding his alleged beating of a Bengal tiger with a wooden shaft.”

Antle Claiming to be an M.D.

In an article he wrote for the Phoenix Exotic Wildlife Association in 2005 Antle claimed to be a medical doctor saying, “I still think this is your right to have your own tiger and to be killed by your own tiger. Just keep it in a cage forever and don’t let anyone else near you or watch you have it happen. I know this rambled on a bit but I was trying to make several points that are hard to explain. I often say that as an MD., I can talk you trough [sic] taking out someone’s kidney, but I can not talk you through tiger training. You have to live it to understand it. Dr. Bhagavan Antle”

1991 News Article

Antle, 34 and his high-profile business are in the middle of an ongoing animal-rights debate.

Antle, whose full name is Mahamayavia Bhagavan Antle though he has gone by the name Kevin, is an animal trainer who supplies trained animals for advertising, commercials, film work and shows.

He opened the park on Bryan Road within site of Interstate 40 in late May. It is open to the public.  It houses dozens of animals ranging from tigers to lions, to wolf hybrids, an elephant, primates and some deer. Antle said he also has some animals in Korea, where he has been working on a show involving trained animals for a resort.

Animal-rights advocates say he routinely doesn’t follow federal animal welfare regulations.

Among the charges leveled by regulators and animal-right groups are that Antle doesn’t provide proper shelter for the animals, doesn’t give them enough access to water, gives incomplete records to federal and state officials and allows the public to come in contact with the dangerous animals.

Animal-rights activists said Antle cares little about the animals or the public.  They believe Antle beats, mistreats and drugs the animals to make them act domesticated for commercials, television, movies and his shows.

“He’s out there to make money and that’s all he’s out there for” said Sue Pressman, a West Virginia zoo consultant who helped write the Animal Welfare Act and who gave a critical inspection report of T.I.G.E.R.S in August 1991.  “He needs to go to jail” stated Pressman.

“It’s a lie the United States Department of Agriculture comes here all the time to inspect us,” Antle said. “The USDA’s sole purpose in life is sanitation.”

But Sue Pressman, a consultant for P.A.W.S., the Performing Animal Welfare Society who toured T.I.G.E.R.S. on Aug. 3, said it was rife with violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act.

“We went through and there were lots of problems,” said Don Elroy, co-director of the Tennessee Network for Animals, which invited Pressman to the area. She is a former longtime director of Captive Wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States.

Among the problems Pressman said she found were a host of sanitary (violations, a dangerously low perimeter fence that might allow animals to escape, a fence enclosing tigers that is configured in a way that could allow the cats to climb out and an elephant chained without shade and water.

Elroy said there are also questions the group has about the registration of some of Antle’s animals. He said a lot of the problems are already laid out in previous USDA inspection reports of the facility.

“We want to see some demonstration of compliance,” Elroy said. “He’s not trying to improve the facility.”  Elroy also questioned how the USDA could give Antle a license until he was in full compliance with all regulations.

Antle, however, countered that T.I.G.E.R.S. was licensed by the USDA in May and that USDA veterinarians were back inspecting the facility only a few days before Pressman was there.

He said that groups like P.A.W.S. are against him no matter what.  “No matter what our facility looked like, the lady would have complained,” Antle said.  He also displayed the USDA exhibitor license for T.I.G.E.R.S. and copies of USDA inspection reports on May 21, 1991, and July 16, 1991.

“A few days before that lady was here, they (USDA) made an inspection, and nothing was said about sanitation,” Antle said. “And these men were experts.”

The USDA issues the permits for parks like T.I.G.E.R.S.  “The USDA says we pass unequivocally,” Antle said. “They said they want us to fix water bowls. They said our weeds were higher than they wanted.”

The USDA inspection report on July 16, which Antle provided to a reporter, lists two pages of handwritten recommendations of corrections.  Inspection reports dating back to 1988 for Antle-owned facilities – he also owned Buckingham Zoological Park in Buckingham, Va. – have similar lists.

Despite all of this Antle has never lost his license to exhibit animals.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel
The Union Leader
Knight Ridder
Tribune News Service


Video Exposing Treatment of Circus Animals


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Posted on Apr 21, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Cedar Cove Feline Park

Cedar Cove Feline Park

Customer No: 8148
Certificate No: 48-C-0118
Certificate Status: ACTIVE
Status Date: Mar 12, 1999

Video Shows Reckless Behavior at Cedar Cove Feline Park


For all their talk about how they enrich the animals lives, this USDA inspection report says that Cedar Cove Feline Park have a leopard named Pandora who has a psychological issue that causes her to suck her tail incessantly.  This is typically caused from taking cubs away from their mothers, to use as ego props, because they don’t get to suckle for the many months that Mother Nature intended.

The USDA report states that the leopard had chewed away the end of her tail and the bone was protruding for two and a half weeks before proper veterinary care was given.

Read more Cedar Cove Feline Park inspection reports below.




CedarCoveFelinePark2010-03-22NoProgramVetCare CedarCoveFelinePark2010-10-18DangerousTigerCaging CedarCoveFelinePark2011-08-09UnsafeTigerCages CedarCoveFelinePark2012-08-15DangerousDilapidatedCatCages CedarCoveFelinePark2012-11-08InadequateShelter


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Posted on Apr 11, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Nergers Splendid Tigers

Nergers Splendid Tigers

“Nerger’s Splendid Tigers” is an old-school circus act that’s billed as the largest traveling tiger show in the United States. The Nerger Show features one dozen tigers which are forced to jump through flaming hoops, form pyramids, play leapfrog, and “dance.” The act is run by Judit and Juergen Nerger, a pair of German tiger trainers who have worked in circuses throughout eastern Europe for nearly 30 years before coming to the United States. Over the years, the Nergers and their tiger show have worked at the infamous Cole Bros. Circus, the Tarzan Zerbini/Royal Canadian Circus, and many small “shrine circuses” across the country. They also perform at fairs and festivals.

The Nergers are currently employed by John Cuneo’s notorious Hawthorn Corporation, a shadowy group with a history of severe animal abuse that leases exotic animal acts to traveling circuses. Hawthorn has racked up over $272,000 in federal fines and had their USDA license suspended twice for over 100 Animal Welfare Act violations. These including failure to provide veterinary care to sick animals, housing pairs of tigers in 6 foot long travel cages for weeks at a time, attacks by tigers on staff (one of which allegedly involved a tiger being beaten with baseball bats), providing the head and skin of a white tiger to an individual who wanted to make a rug out of the parts, and using nothing but a single thin rope as a Nergers Splendid Tigers“barrier” between the public and adult tigers. Although the Nergers themselves have their own USDA exhibitor’s license (#33-C-0452), their tigers are owned by the Hawthorn Corporation, and are housed at Hawthorn’s Illinois facility when not on the road, raising serious concerns about the conditions the animals live in when not performing.


The Nerger tigers were trained in 2002-3 at the Hawthorn facility by Luis and Marcia Palacio, a team of Mexican trainers who traveled the world in the 1980s with a “mixed act” featuring tigers, lions, leopards, and hyenas. Once the cats were suitably trained, Wade Burck (a circus trainer who once admitted to whacking animals with 2x4s because “they aren’t capable of thinking like I do”) mentored the Nergers in their “presentation methods” and accompanied them to their first few shows.

In this video of the performance, the body language of the cats (ears pinned back, leaning away from the whips) clearly indicates that they are fearful and stressed. Despite the persistent myth that a large animal “can’t be forced to do something it doesn’t want to do”, the motto of the circus is “the show must go on.” In a 2011 interview for a local newspaper, the Nergers admitted that their tigers are naturally solitary creatures and only appear to “get along” while in the ring “because they know we are there”. They also stated that every tiger is made to participate in every performance, even if it is in a “bad mood” that day.

Nergers Tiger Show

More about the Nerger’s

Cubs too small to perform being housed in the back lot of a 2009 Maine circus.

2009 article on a supermarket chain dropping their sponsorship of Nerger’s act after learning about what they were supporting.

Interview with the Nergers from the Sherando Times

22 years with really big cats

A trainer opens up about tigers, PETA and constant danger

by Dan McDermott

April 27, 2011

Juergen Nerger and his wife Judit have been working with big cats for more than twenty years. They headline this year’s Cole Bros. Circus.

For more than 30 years, Juergen and  Judit  Nerger  have  thrilled audiences with their big cat (and occasionally bear) shows. This year, the Nergers and their tiger act will be headlining the Cole Brothers Circus in Winchester during  the 2011 Apple Blossom Festival.

The Sherando Times spoke with Judit Nerger about how she got into such  an  unusual  and  dangerous line of work. Nerger told us about her  life  with  her  feline  colleagues, dealing  with  PETA  and  what  goes through  her  mind  when  she  hears about  a  trainer  getting  mauled, sometimes fatally, while doing what she and her husband do every day.

The  Sherando  Times:  How  did  you  get  interested  and  involved  in  performing with big cats?

Judit  Nerger:  Oh,  that’s  a  long  story from a long time ago. For me it just happened. My husband was working on it and we are originally from East Germany. It was different there and he was the lucky one who got picked out and got in to perform with big cats and train them.

Times: How long have you been performing in front of crowds?

Nerger: Oh gosh, I have to think about it. It’s 22 years for me and for my husband it’s already 25 years.

Times:  Do you own these tigers and do you always perform with the same group?

Nerger: No, we don’t own them. The owner is somebody else. We are just always around them, taking care of them, training, performing, etc.

Times: Typically, would you have to start when they are babies?

Nerger: Not really. It is just always nice if they are at a very young age but like with these cats, they were already 3 or 4 years old when we got them.  So somebody else got them and started, training them. Most of the time, they are 1-1/2 or 2 years old.

Times: So definitely  you  start them young.

Nerger: Yes, we start them young but sometimes you start with older ones if you don’t have any other choice. You can start with them at a very young age, even if they don’t understand what you want, but it’s all just playing around and making them understand this is where you are able to perform, finding out what they like to do which makes the training much easier because each cat has its own personality – they  just have talent on specific things, you know?

Times: So really the cat dictates the show, to a degree because you discover what they like to do? Because obviously you can’t force a tiger to do something it doesn’t want to do?

Nerger: No, it’s kind of pointless to do something which he really cannot.

Times: Do you work exclusively with tigers or also lions?

Nerger: Well, we used to have a lion but we lost him a couple months ago and we are still looking around for a new one to replace him. In the past, before we came over to the United States, we worked with bears too, brown bears.

Times: I noticed that when the circus travels and you see them, the elephants will typically be put in one pen but the tigers and lions they will segregate. Is that because they don’t get along as well as some other animal species?

Nerger: Well, see a tiger in Mother Nature is always single. But lions are a different story. If you have an act with lions you can have all of them together. But with tigers, if you’re lucky you can have 4 or 5 together. But in most cases it’s like 2 by 2. That works out pretty good.

Times: Now they get along during the show. Is that because they are accustomed to each other?

Nerger: Yeah because we are always in there watching them, really not because they like each other, even if they sit right next to each other you never know. It’s just they know we are inside and they don’t have a chance to go at each other. So we have to be on top of it. We are the police in there.

Times: That’s an interesting analogy. Like you said, they have different personalities and just like people they have good days and bad days. Are there some days when one is in a bad mood and you don’t bring that tiger out that day?

Nerger: No, we take them all the time. We just go with the tiger then because before we line them up we can tell, okay this guy is in a bad mood. This female is in a bad mood or she just kind of doesn’t want to do it today. You really put your feelings in there and just keep an eye on that tiger or do this or this today because there is something going on but we aren’t leaving out any cats at any time unless they are sick.

Times: It was interesting when I saw an act 2 or 3 times. I was taking pictures of the circus and I noticed it was a very different show each day. One day they might be really active and energetic and then another day one of them might be having a lazy day but it was a very different show each time.

Nerger: Yeah, a show is never the same. Each show is different because you never know. They have moods like humans. Of course they have moods. Humans have moods and say, ‘I don’t want to do this.” It’s the same with big cats. I think with any animal it is the same because they have moods.

Times: One thing you have to ask when you talk to someone in your line of work because your line of work is potentially very dangerous and we hear stories every few years. The last one is what happened with the Siegfried and Roy show, a horrible accident. What goes through your mind when you hear something like that and what mistakes may have been made? I guess when something like that happens you learn from it?

Nerger: Yes, we do and each time something like that happens we always get a wake up call. We feel bad about what happened to the person but, I tell you what, most of the time it’s really because the trainer did a mistake. So each mistake you do [the cats] want to take advantage of it. So many, many, many times we get a wake up call and say, hey, never let it be us and then for the next couple days we’re going to be more … It’s just a weird feeling. You think you know it but sometimes it is feels like you are getting into a routine and you really shouldn’t because that’s going to cost you your life. So more, more, more attention!

Times: I remember even when [Roy] was injured, he was down and he said, ‘Don’t hurt the cat!’

Nerger: Yeah, yeah, because it’s not the cat’s fault. They are just taking advantage of it because that’s their nature. So we are saying always, the tiger is just sleeping, even if they are trained. Many people are getting it wrong. Many people think they are tame. They think they are pets and they are really not. They are just trained and the trainer has to always be on top of it. You cannot do any mistakes because the worst is going to happen.

Times: I know that the elephant folks are in a constant battle with PETA and other groups but I don’t hear too much about the other animals. Is that something you have to deal with all the time or do they leave you alone?

Nerger: Well we have to deal with it, not all the time. And you know we even have a website for that reason because I don’t want to get bothered by those people and once in a while you have people in front of the circus – they have demonstrations. Over the years you just get so used to it and it just doesn’t bother you anymore. So we aren’t even going into any arguments or discussions about it because it’s pointless. They don’t know what they are talking about. They have no idea. They don’t understand so therefore we are pretty cool about it. It’s not nice to get bothered by it but I can’t change it. They have their mind. I have my mind and that’s it. And actually with the large cats it’s not so bad as with the elephants.

Times: Yeah I was just reading that at one point there were some elephants in the Cole Bros. Circus I guess last season, and they were calling ahead to each town the circus was in to talk to the local authorities and it was just this ongoing hassle that resulted in eventually losing the elephants.

Nerger: Yeah, I know. Sometimes it’s really bad and some areas are really bad and sometimes you don’t have anything like this so it just depends. It’s very bad.

Times: Now you said you’re from East Germany. I know that the circus, it’s pretty much a novelty in The United States. A lot of kids grow up and they don’t ever get a chance to see a circus except on television. It’s a lot more popular and a bigger deal in Europe isn’t it?

Nerger: Yeah, it’s a big deal; but over the years it’s just business is not too good. To be honest, we have way too many circuses in Germany right now and people will go to circuses they know – they always have good business. But [with] small circuses or family circuses they may have had a bad experience so they aren’t going too often. It used to be a big thing, especially in East Germany because we had no entertainment really. We didn’t have all those cool movie theaters and stuff at the time so it was a big thing.

Times: It was definitely a big difference before the wall fell. A big, big difference between East Germany and what they had.

Nerger: I have a feeling that the circus business here in the U.S. is going way better than in Europe.

Times: Have you performed before in The United States?

Nerger: We have been traveling here for over 8 years now.

Times: How do you like it?

Nerger: Uh, yeah! We like it!





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Posted on Apr 10, 2016 in Abuse, Browse by Name | 0 comments

Hawthorn Circus John Cuneo

Hawthorn Circus John Cuneo

Tiger Exhibitor Can’t Sue Feds Over License Issue

April 1, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. (CN) – A tiger exhibitor that lost a circus contract due to a handler’s revoked license cannot seek damages for government inspectors’ alleged failure to point out the violation, a federal judge ruled.

The Hawthorn Corporation is a licensed animal exhibitor under the Animal Welfare Act, which was enacted to ensure humane treatment and care of pets and animals used in research and exhibitions. Dealers and exhibitors of animals such as Hawthorn operate under a license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Hawthorn hired Lancelot Kollman in 2012 as a trainer for its 16 white tigers, which the company exhibits during circus shows.

Even though Kollman’s USDA exhibitor’s license had been revoked due to a procedural default, Hawthorn believed that, as long as the handler operated as its employee, he could train and present Hawthorn’s tigers, according to the company’s complaint in Federal Court.

In January 2013, Hawthorn took its tigers to Tampa to exhibit them during a Soul Circus performance, for which the circus company had agreed to pay Hawthorn $672,000, according to the lawsuit.

However, when Soul Circus checked Kollman’s status with the USDA, animal care inspectors said Kollman was not allowed to handle or present Hawthorn’s tigers because his license had been revoked.

Soul Circus then rescinded its contract with Hawthorn, which suffered income loss and incurred substantial expenses such as freight costs, additional handlers, sawdust and 7,000 pounds of meat to feed the tigers, the 2013 lawsuit said.

Hawthorn accused USDA inspectors of negligence, claiming they had a duty to detect and report violations such as Kollman’s operating without a license so that the violations could be corrected.

It claimed USDA inspectors knew Kollman was the company’s tiger trainer and handler since 2012, as they had inspected Hawthorn repeatedly during Kollman’s employment and had raised no issues about his license status.
The USDA inspection reports, which did not mention any compliance issues, lulled Hawthorn into thinking that Kollman could exhibit the tigers under Hawthorn’s license, the lawsuit said.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich dismissed the claims last week for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that the United States could not be liable for plaintiff’s reliance on government employees’ misrepresentations or omissions.

As a licensed animal exhibitor, Hawthorn knew or should have known that a person whose license had been revoked, such as Kollman, could not exhibit or transport animals, according to the 26-page ruling.

Even if the United States could be held liable for its agency’s misrepresentations, it would still be entitled to immunity because USDA inspections qualify as discretionary functions, Kovachevich wrote.

What’s more, Hawthorn cannot pursue claims for interference with contract rights under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Since Hawthorn alleged that the government’s negligence ended its contractual relationship with the circus, the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the claims, the order adds.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has accused Hawthorn repeatedly of Animal Welfare Act violations, such as failure to provide animals with proper veterinary care, nutrition, adequate space and humane handling practices. In 2013, PETA asked the government to revoke Hawthorn’s license.

Hawthorn in Double Trouble Over Tigers

Written by PETA | February 14, 2013

Update: PETA has now confirmed that the USDA has not one but two open investigations into AWA violations by the Hawthorn Corporation: one prompted by PETA’s complaint regarding Hawthorn’s use of Lance Ramos (see below) to unlawfully exhibit tigers in violation of the USDA’s revocation of Ramos’ license and the other arising from a separate case in Florida. Please urge the agency to follow the lead of governments around the world in defending animals against abuse by circuses and exhibitors by permanently revoking Hawthorn’s license.

Originally posted on February 8th, 2013:

PETA has submitted a request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking the agency to revoke the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) license for the notoriousHawthorn Corporation, which the agency has inexplicably repeatedly renewed despite years of flagrant AWA violations against elephants and tigers as well as the illegal exhibitions that Hawthorn still allows.

A History of Horrors

As PETA has learned from years of working to free animals from Hawthorn’s cruel clutches, calling Hawthorn “notorious” is actually putting it rather mildly. The exotic-animal exhibitor’s reprehensible history of AWA violations include USDA citations issued on more than 60 occasions for Hawthorn’s many failures to provide animals with proper veterinary care, nutrition, safe or sanitary enclosures, safe or humane handling practices, exercise, and adequate space.

The USDA’s previous enforcement actions against Hawthorn have entailed multiple license suspensions, more than a quarter of a million dollars in penalties, and confiscation or ordered surrender of at least 17 exotic animals. None of these actions have done anything to ensure even adequate treatment of the animals Hawthorn forces to perform.

Law Without Justice?

The USDA has recognized that continuing to fail to adhere to minimum standards of sanitation and feeding—both of which are chronic problems for Hawthorn—are violations for which an AWA license should be revoked. Yet the USDA appears to be granting Hawthorn preferential treatment by repeatedly renewing its license.

Someone whose license was permanently revoked is animal trainer Lance Ramos (aka “Lancelot Kollman”) after AWA citations for, among other cruelty, using physical abuse as a “training tool” on exotic cats to the point that at least one of them died and denying adequate veterinary care to an elephant so severely emaciated that he was a full ton underweight when the USDA confiscated him. Despite this, Hawthorn brought Ramos on board to train and exhibit tigers, and PETA has provided evidence to the USDA that he recently illegally exhibited the big cats with a Shrine circus and Showfolks Circus.


Woman finds Hebron man’s tiger head, hide


Everyone has seen a pillow or other item that obviously fell out of a moving truck, but for one woman last week the found item was anything but ordinary.

On Route 120 near Route 12, a woman came across a milk crate with a white tiger head on top. Inside the crate was the rest of the tiger skin. She turned it over to Lakemoor police.

“It was a hide with a head attached,” said Matt Karras, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He kept it in a freezer and waited for that weird telephone call from the owner who lost it.

“I called the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and told them, ‘You are going to get a strange call, but it’s true and I have it,’” he said.

Sure enough, man from Hebron in McHenry County called to claim the skin and head that he intended to have made into a rug. He received it from a veterinarian who put down the 18-year-old female because of kidney problems.

The animal had been at Hawthorn Corp., a facility near Richmond that raises white tigers and elephants for circuses.

“It was given to him. It can’t be sold. In fact, if he ever wants to get rid of it, he must return it,” Karras said.

He also said the Captive Wildlife Safety Act that prohibits the importation of certain big cats only applies to live animals.,5_1_WA06_TIGERRUG_S1.article


Trainer Suffers Puncture Wounds

August 08, 2008

Despite the nightmarish memory of a tiger biting him repeatedly, an animal trainer downplayed a mauling at a McHenry County circus farm on Tuesday that left him hospitalized with deep puncture wounds.

“It’s not that bad,” Larry Dean said Thursday from his hospital bed. “If you do it for a very long time, it will happen every now and then. It’s really not a big deal. How many people get bitten by dogs all the time?”

Dean said he was practicing a circus act at the Hawthorn Corporation farm near Richmond when the tiger suddenly became aggressive Tuesday and grabbed him with its mouth. He has a puncture wound on his knee, a bite on his arm and several scratches, he said.

“He had numerous scratch marks and bite marks,” said Richmond Township Fire Chief Rick Gallas. “I would say that was a mauling — quite a bit above the waist. The guy walked up to us, but he was pretty bloody.”

Gallas said Dean told paramedics it was the second time a tiger had attacked him at the farm, but Dean declined to comment when asked about that on Thursday.

Hawthorn owner John Cuneo said Dean should not have been near the tigers when he was attacked about 9:45 a.m.

“Somehow, he got close to one of the tigers,” said Cuneo, who spoke to Dean on Thursday morning but said he was still unclear about the details of the mauling.

Gallas said workers told paramedics they had to beat the tiger with baseball bats to get it to release Dean, but Dean disputed that account.

“They didn’t get him off me,” Dean said. “Somebody overreacted and called an ambulance. I was on my way out to my truck” to drive to the hospital.

Dean said he is having difficulty walking because of the knee injury.

“It is a bad bite,” he said. “It was big teeth.”

Dean declined to elaborate on specifically where the attack occurred or what act he was practicing.

He said he expects to be released from Centegra Hospital in McHenry on Friday after doctors make sure he doesn’t have an infection.

Hawthorn owns about 50 tigers, according to Cuneo, but he said only about 30 of the animals are at the farm adding that the rest are currently performing at circuses around the country and the world.

In 2003 the Department of Agriculture accused Hawthorn of failing to care for its elephants properly, a charge Cuneo denied. But in 2004 he agreed to give away his elephants in exchange for permission to keep his circus tigers.

A visitor to the Hawthorn farm was mauled by a tiger in 2005, according to a lawsuit filed in McHenry County Circuit Court. An Iowa man claims in the suit that he was invited into an arena at the facility where 14 white tigers were being trained. One attacked him, causing severe leg injuries.

Cuneo has said the man hit the tiger, spurring the attack.

That case is still pending.


Tiger owner denies accusations made by PETA

John Cuneo got into raising exotic animals when he created a children’s zoo at his father’s farm in Libertyville.

Since then he has raised a virtual ark of animals through his Hawthorn Corp., located in Richmond, and the 80-year-old’s latest love are white tigers. “I’ve trained tigers, lions, leopards, horses and bears,” he said.

Cuneo is someone that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) love to hate and there is no love lost for him either.

The PETA press release states it has submitted comments to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service asking it to deny permits to export and then import seven white tigers for commercial exhibition. It claims more than 30 tigers have died at his facility in the last 11 years.

“John Cuneo has denied veterinary care, edible food, and adequate living quarters to tigers, and now he wants to an export permit to squeeze a few more dollars out of them,” said Delcianna Winders, PETA director.

Cuneo is a very calm person, but when asked about the accusations of PETA he shakes his head. “These people do this out of sheer meaness,” he said. He has been raising tigers since 1969, and since they only live about 15 years, he has had many die.

“We bury every one of them on the property here. We don’t sell their bones or their hides and we have all the paperwork,” he said. “It really makes me mad when they play games,” he said. “Tigers, like dogs, only live so long.”

“Because of their publicity people think they are beaten, abused, starved and neglected. Do you realize how valuable they are? It’s like taking a sledgehammer to your Rolls Royce. It makes no sense,” he said, adding that an elephant, which he no longer raises because of the regulatory headaches, is worth about $200,000 and a white tiger is valued around $15,000.

PETA also charged that he has had $272,500 in fines from the United States Department of Agriculture, was forced to relinquish animals and forced tigers to live in cramped transport cages barely larger than their own bodies for weeks or months at a time.

“This is what they do,” he said of PETA, “They are absolutely right (about the fines), but they fail to tell you we took the USDA to court and were found not guilty and they awarded us $130,000,” he said.

He has had to relinquish animals, like the time in California when the tigers were in their traveling cages and the trainer was arrested, until it turned out that the cages were exactly the size required by the USDA.

“It makes you mad when they put this stuff out,” he said. As to the permits PETA mentioned in the press release, at first he said he they had no intention of exporting any tigers. The ones they have now are in training and would not be ready to perform for some time yet. They were looking at a circus festival in Montreal, Canada, in 2013.

But then he called back and said, yes, they had applied for permits because it can take so long to process the paperwork. “If we apply a couple of months before we go, we would never get them in time,” he said.

Cuneo offered a tour of the facility off North Solon Road to a reporter and photographer where they could watch a training session. He explained the trainer, Lance Kollman, has been involved with animals since he was 7-years-old. “PETA wants you to think these are fly-by-night or roughnecks,” he said. “These are career people,” he added.

“I’m a tiger whisperer,” jokes Kollman after getting out of the training cage where 10 tigers sat on their pedestals until he called them out to perform, doing simple tricks using meat as the training took stuck on a long stick and what looked like a horsebuggy whip.

“I come from seven generations of circus performers. My father and his brothers were acrobats and traveled throughout Mexico and Europe,” he said. He loved the animal trainers and would get into the cage after the show was over and pretend he was the trainer. “I knew the whole routine,” said Kollman, who also foot juggled for a time before becoming a full-time trainer.

“Ever since I was little I loved animals,” he said. He learned from other trainers and took the best techniques, but he also has what some people call a gift for communicating and understanding the animals. “I like to look at the animal and I can read it, I can see it and know what they are going to do before they do it. They tell you what they are going to do,” he said.

It was impressive to say the least as he stood in a cage no bigger than a four- or five-car garage, no gun or shock stick in sight, just his training stick (which the meat is placed on) and his little buggy whip with 500-pound tigers baring their teeth surround him.

He seemed at ease as he called their names and placed the training stick where he wanted them to lay down. He made them stand on their hind legs. Roll over. There was Sham, Sheena, Pacman, King and his brother Prince, Diago and his brother Demetrius, Shamon, Darca, Sheba, Ravi, Princess. All Bengal tigers, though some have some Siberian in them.

One routine had five tigers standing in a row and one female jumped over them in a single bound. This was the comedy routine, because next he had another tiger run like it was going to jump over them, too, only she stopped and went underneath them instead.

To teach them to stand on their hind legs he used a stringy piece of meat held aloft while shouting the command “Up.” After other tricks, like rolling over, he would use the training stick to feed them a square chunk of meat.

“If you beat them, you make them so nervous you can’t work with them,” said Cuneo, “The important thing is to keep them calm. You can’t get them to perform by force.” The cages were big enough for the animals to walk around and there was a loft made of boards for the cats to sleep on. There were also outside cages with small pools and logs for scratching.

The barn smelled like an animal barn, but your eyes didn’t burn like the PETA press release that said an inspector wrote that the ammonia from the urine stung their eyes. “I wanted you to see it for yourself so when you get these releases that say how evil we are you won’t believe them,” he said.


Obviously the reporter did not do his homework.



John Cuneo giving away elephants and tigers

Elephants to leave McHenry County farm

Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition
Elephants to leave McHenry County farm

Elephants need new home (Tribune file photo)
March 8, 2004


Animal trainer faces hearing
March 8, 2004

By Jeff Long
Tribune staff reporter
Published March 8, 2004, 2:52 PM CST

The owner of a circus-training facility in rural McHenry County has agreed to find new homes for his elephants under an agreement with federal authorities, officials announced today.

The proposed agreement between John Cuneo, owner of Hawthorn Corp., and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would end the government’s case against Cuneo and his company for dozens of alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act concerning the elephants’ care.

A USDA administrative law judge still must approve the settlement.

“( Cuneo ) will cooperate with the USDA in finding a new home for the elephants,” said David Weintraub, a spokesman for Cuneo .

A hearing on the charges had been scheduled to begin today before an agency law judge in Washington D.C. That case proceeded today against one of the original defendants in the case, James G. Zajicek of Mesa , Ariz. , a trainer used by Cuneo .

While the charges against Cuneo and other defendants have not yet been dropped, USDA spokesman Jim Rogers said settlements either have been reached or are in the works. Those portions of the case are not proceeding in court.

Cuneo could not be reached for comment. He said last year he had 19 elephants at his farm near Richmond , along with a lion and 84 tigers.

Since then, at least one of the elephants has been seized by the USDA, which said poor health put the animal, Delhi , in “imminent danger.”

Weintraub said Cuneo plans to give the elephants away rather than sell them. A decision on where they will go, the spokesman added, will be made after a judge approves the agreement with the USDA.

Neither Weintraub nor a USDA spokesman could say when a judge may rule nor when the elephants may leave the McHenry County farm.

Cuneo ‘s training facility will remain open, Weintraub said. The government’s case did not affect the lion or the tigers.

Hawthorn’s animals have performed in circuses across the U.S. and around the world. But in the last 10 years, the entity has become a target of USDA investigations and protests by animal rights groups alleging animal cruelty.

2004 Chicago Tribune

Hawthorn Corporation

9819 N. Solon Rd.
Richmond, IL 60071
USDA License #33-C-0053

Hawthorn Corporation has failed to meet minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as established in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited Hawthorn Corporation numerous times for failure to provide veterinary care, adequate shelter from the elements, and proper food and water, as well as failure to handle animals in a manner that prevents trauma and harm and ensures public safety. Hawthorn has accumulated $72,500 in USDA penalties and has twice had its license suspended. Four of Hawthorn’s elephants died from a human strain of tuberculosis. In January 1997, Hawthorn’s herd of 18 elephants was restricted from traveling during tuberculosis treatment. Hawthorn’s elephants have rampaged, causing death, injury, and property damage. Hawthorn leases animals to facilities and circuses around the world, including Jordan World Circus, Circus Vargas, Shrine Circuses, Walker Bros. Circus, Royal Palace Circus, George Carden Circus, Hanneford Circus, Hamid Circus, Alain Zerbini, and Tarzan Zerbini. Contact PETA for documentation.

March 12, 2004: According to a consent decision, John Cuneo, president of Hawthorn Corporation, admitted to 19 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act in order to settle charges filed by the USDA in April 2003. Cuneo was ordered to relinquish custody of 16 elephants to USDA-approved facilities and to pay a $200,000 fine

November 22, 2003: The USDA seized an elephant named Delhi from Hawthorn and transferred her to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee after determining that she was in imminent danger from lack of veterinary care. Delhi had been suffering from abscesses, lesions, and severe chemical burns to her feet and was covered with scars. She was originally captured in India and acquired by Hawthorn in 1974. This was the first elephant confiscation in U.S. history.

April 9, 2003: The USDA filed charges against Hawthorn Corporation, several Hawthorn employees, and Walker Bros. Circus, which used Hawthorn’s elephants. The complaint alleges 47 violations of the minimum standards of care established in the Animal Welfare Act that affected 12 elephants between March 29, 2001, and June 1, 2002. Charges include using physical abuse to train, handle, and work an elephant, causing physical harm and discomfort, failing to provide veterinary care to an emaciated elephant, failure to provide veterinary care to an elephant suffering with severe chemical burns and a bacterial infection, failure to provide veterinary care to several elephants with potentially deadly foot problems, and unsafe public contact.

March 5, 2003: According to The Edmonton Sun , a local Shrine Circus announced that it will no longer use animals from Hawthorn.

October 19, 2002: According to The Virginian-Pilot , an elephant handler with Sterling & Reid, David Creech, was convicted on three counts of animal cruelty (see September 4-5, 2002) and fined $200 on each count. The judge acquitted Creech, a Hawthorn employee, of a fourth count, which alleged that he struck an elephant over the head with a bullhook, because it was unclear from the eyewitness account which elephant trainer committed the act.

September 4-5, 2002: According to The Virginian-Pilot , an elephant handler with Sterling & Reid, David Creech, was charged with four counts of animal cruelty for beating an elephant until her hide was bloody while performing at the Norfolk Scope on August 23. The article stated, “An investigation by the officer and an outside veterinarian determined that the elephant suffered multiple lacerations.”

The circus is leasing its elephant act from Hawthorn. Another elephant handler, James Zajicek, a Hawthorn employee, was arrested and charged with obstructing justice.

June 1, 2002: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide adequate veterinary treatment to three elephants held in the protected contact area and in need of foot care to prevent potentially deadly foot problems. Hawthorn was also cited for failure to correct a previously identified violation of not providing diagnostic test results for a dead lion and a dead tiger.

The inspector noted that 13 white tigers had been kept in transport cages since April 23, 2002, which failed to comply with minimum space requirements.

Lota was reported to weigh 7,200 pounds. The expert elephant veterinary consultant had determined that Lota should not be sent back on the road before reaching a weight of 7,400 pounds.

May 24, 2002: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to the African elephants with hard, dry, cracked skin on the back, ears, and head and overgrown nails and cuticles, which can lead to potentially deadly foot problems. Hawthorn was also cited for failure to provide minimum space to its tigers and for allowing unauthorized persons near the tiger cages without a handler present.

May 16, 2002: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide adequate veterinary treatment to the elephants in the protected contact area and in need of foot care and for failure to provide diagnostic test results for a dead lion and a dead tiger.

May 4, 2002: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to its elephants. The inspector wrote, “The owner of the Hawthorn Corporation failed to obtain the services … of an expert elephant veterinarian … as required. … [The USDA] acquired the services of an expert elephant veterinary consultant who examined Delhi on this date.” The USDA’s elephant veterinary consultant found that Delhi had numerous lesions, a swollen tail, swollen front feet with skin damage and abscess blow-outs, abscess defects on the foot pads, and a huge split nail. The consultant recommended twice-daily foot soaks, weekly foot trims, monthly weight checks, oral medications, keeping detailed medical records, providing care for skin wounds, and allowing Delhi to go outside.

The veterinary consultant examined Lota and stated that she should not go on the road until she gained an additional 500 pounds and that the four elephants in the protected contact area–Frieda, Sue, Billy, and Nicholas–had nails and/or cuticles that required trimming.

April 23, 2002: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide veterinary care and for causing behavioral stress, physical harm, and unnecessary discomfort to an elephant named Delhi who had severe tissue damage to the front feet and several abscessed areas on her body, including areas on both hips, between the eyes, the anterior portion of the ear attachment, on her head, the elbows of both front legs, and the tail. Chemical burns on Delhi’s feet were the result of the use by trainer John Caudill III–who was later fired–of undiluted formaldehyde to soak Delhi’s feet. On March 4, 2002, Delhi was found “in a serious health emergency.” Both of her front legs were twice their normal size and were swollen up to her chest. She could not bend her front legs at the elbows, was reluctant to bear weight on her front legs, and had difficulty in walking. The attending veterinarian did not respond in a timely manner. The inspector wrote, “The attending veterinarian cannot wait for two to three days before going to the premises to evaluate an acutely ill animal.” The USDA determined that a USDA-chosen expert elephant veterinarian was needed to evaluate Delhi’s condition.

The USDA also cited Hawthorn for failure to provide diagnostic records, treatment records, and necropsy reports for a tiger named Java and a lion named Bunda, failure to provide minimum space to 14 white tigers living in transport cages, and failure to have a sufficient number of adequately trained employees.

February 22, 2002: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to properly clean and sanitize the elephants’ transport trailer.

January 2, 2002: According to a USDA letter, Hawthorn had been notified that elephants Debbie and Judy were prohibited from exhibition involving potential public contact following the October 2001 rampage in Charlotte, N.C.

December 19, 2001: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to maintain an elephant transport trailer in a manner to prevent injury to the animals.

October 27, 2001: Two Hawthorn elephants named Debbie and Judy rampaged at the Word of Life Church in Charlotte, N.C. Two church members were nearly trampled, and children had to be quickly ushered to safety. The elephants crashed into the church through a glass window, broke and buckled walls and door frames, and knocked a car 15 feet, causing an estimated $75,000 in damages. The elephants suffered cuts and bruises. Debbie had rampaged twice before with an elephant named Frieda while she was with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. In May 1995, she smashed windows, dented cars, and crashed through a plate-glass window at a Sears Auto Center in Hanover, Pa., causing $20,000 in property damage. In July 1995, Debbie bolted from the circus tent in Queens, N.Y., crushing parked cars and triggering a panic that left 12 people injured.

October 11-15, 2001: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to correct previously identified violations of not providing veterinary care and not maintaining facilities.

An elephant named Lota had been returned to the Illinois compound two months earlier in an emaciated state, with a lump on her left hip . The property manager and trainer stated that they had never seen Lota so thin. The lump had expanded into a large, painful, fluid-filled abscess that extended down to her mid-thigh. Lota and four other elephants (Misty, Queenie, Minnie, and Lottie) were being given tuberculosis medication as a “preventative treatment.” Lota and Misty were both in need of foot care. Lota had not been weighed since 1997. There were no veterinary care records for these animals.

The inspector found several bottles of medication, said to be used on the elephants, that had no labels identifying the contents, instructions for use, or expiration date.

Hawthorn was also cited for failure to maintain the structural strength of the elephant barn and improper food storage.

October 11, 2001: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to correct a previously identified violation of not providing veterinary care by an experienced veterinarian to elephants traveling with Walker Bros. Circus. The inspector wrote, “I spoke with the veterinarian … that had examined the animals on 10/10/01. He stated that he was not sure about the proper treatment for the elephants because he did not have much experience [in] treating them.”

October 5, 2001: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to correct previously identified violations of not providing veterinary care and security for its elephants traveling with Walker Bros. Circus.

Delhi had an open, draining, and bleeding wound on her nail with blood stains on and around the nail and foot. The area above the nail was swollen and warm to the touch. The cuticles on both of her front feet were “very overgrown.” Delhi was limping in pain and favored her leg during the performance. There were no documents to indicate that a qualified person was providing foot care. Tess’ left eye was very teary, and she was squinting; the trainer claimed that he had run out of an antibiotic ointment to treat her eye. Two bottles of expired medication were found by the inspector.

The inspector also observed that an experienced elephant handler was not present while the public came near elephants walking freely in a pen. The inspector returned later, after the report had been discussed with the licensee, and again found that the elephants were loose and unattended.

October 2, 2001: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide veterinary care to three elephants (Liz, Delhi, and Tess, traveling with Walker Bros. Circus) with overgrown nails and cuticles. Hawthorn was also cited for failure to have dangerous animals under the control of experienced handlers. The inspector observed parents and children approaching and petting elephants while no attendant was present.

Hawthorn was cited for failure to provide structurally sound enclosures. The inspector wrote, “[T]he elephants were inside an orange plastic mesh ‘fence.’ It was down in two places. … [Local authorities] informed me that earlier in the day, at least one [elephant] was outside this enclosure. Two [elephants] were completely free from any restraint. … A water hose was running water over an electrical cord. This area was able to be touched by both elephants and the public.”

October 1, 2001: The Harlan County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Kentucky lodged a complaint with a county judge after observing that Hawthorn elephants with Walker Bros. Circus had “numerous red and raw spots on their ears from being speared with the hook-like device the trainer uses. … The traveling quarters for the animals were at best cramped and inadequate. And at no time did I see any water dish or clean food be provided for any of the … elephants.”

September 25, 2001: Hawthorn was cited for improper food storage.

July 11, 2001: Hawthorn was cited for failure to correct previously identified violations of not disposing of expired medications and not making necessary repairs to the barn.

Hawthorn was also cited for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to three elephants with excessively overgrown nails.

June 27, 2001: During an inspection conducted at Walker Bros. Circus, Hawthorn was cited for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to four elephants with “excessive pad and toenail overgrowth on their feet” and overgrown cuticles. The inspector wrote, “It does not appear that these animals have had proper foot care in a significant amount of time.”

Hawthorn was cited for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to an elephant named Lota who was “excessively thin, with a protruding spine and hip bones.” The inspector wrote, “It appears that she has lost a significant amount of weight.”

The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to have dangerous animals under the control of experienced handlers and failure to have adequate safety barriers. The inspector observed members of the public approaching the elephants and being loaded on an elephant for rides while no handler was present.

June 26, 2001: The USDA cited Hawthorn for physically abusing elephants. The inspector observed the handler gouge an elephant named Ronnie on the trunk with a bullhook, causing an open lesion, and a different handler was “observed raking the back of another elephant several times with his hook during the performance.”

May 23, 2001: Hawthorn was cited for failure to provide records of acquisition. The inspector also noted that Misty had an abscess on her left front foot and that her feet were in need of trimming.

April 13, 2001: A letter to the editor published in the Chicago Sun-Times stated, “I escorted a group of schoolchildren, including my 8-year-old daughter, to this year’s Medinah Shrine Circus. … When the elephants were brought behind the curtain, the trainer began verbally abusing and hitting the elephant. We watched in horror as he swung a stick with all his force and struck the elephant in the back of the leg. This must have hurt because the elephant let out a scream that could be heard throughout the UIC Pavilion. The kids were frightened and asked me why the man was hurting the elephant.”

According to documents from the city of Chicago, a cruelty to animals complaint was filed against trainer John Caudill, a Hawthorn employee. The elephants used at Medinah Shrine Circus were leased from Hawthorn.

March 29, 2001: Hawthorn was cited for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to an elephant named Delhi traveling with Walker Bros. Circus. Delhi had an injury on her left front foot. The inspector wrote, “The lesion is open and bleeding today and should be evaluated by a veterinarian.”

March 1, 2001: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to correct a previously identified violation of not disposing of expired medications. Hawthorn was also cited for failure to maintain a tiger enclosure with an “extremely rusty shift door with sharp metal edges” and an “excessively chewed/clawed” wood partition. Hawthorn was cited for inadequate ventilation in a barn with “an extremely strong urine odor.”

The inspector noted that a 12-year-old white male tiger named Neve died while being transported back to winter quarters and that a 6-year-old white female tiger named Java died in June 2000.

February 23, 2001: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to correct a previously identified violation of not repairing damages to a trailer used to transport tigers.

July 11, 2000: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to correct a previously identified violation of improper feeding of its tigers. Hawthorn was also cited for a trailer in disrepair.

June 6, 2000: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to dispose of expired medications, improper food storage, and failure to maintain the structural strength of a tiger enclosure with a rusted wall and sharp, exposed edges.

May 21, 2000: According to the Hanover Sun , Cuneo put a killer elephant named Freda back on tour with a traveling circus in defiance of a USDA directive that she posed an “unacceptable risk to public.”

November 16, 1999: Hawthorn was cited for failure to maintain enclosures in a manner that protects the animals from injury and for storing moldy food.

August 18, 1999: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to have annual tuberculosis tests for the elephant handlers.

July 9, 1999: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide veterinary care to an elephant named Lota who had a “large open wound on the right hip area.” The inspector wrote, “During the inspection the left side of the wound was weeping and bloody.”

June 16, 1999: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to have a veterinarian-approved diet plan for the tigers, handle food in a manner that prevents contamination, and submit the required itinerary.

May 11, 1999: The USDA denied Hawthorn’s request to use an elephant named Frieda in public exhibition, stating that she posed an “unacceptable risk to public, and therefore her own, safety.” Frieda had rampaged several times while touring with Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus.

March 16, 1999: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide proper veterinary care . The inspector noted that a tiger was administered medication that had expired. Hawthorn was also cited for improper and moldy food storage.

November 26, 1998: In an interview, published in The Evansville Courier , with Hawthorn tiger trainer Othmar Vohringer, he recalled a serious attack: “A lion took my arm off. It was just hanging there. It had to be reattached.”

November 12, 1998: Hawthorn was cited for failure to follow the veterinary care program .

May 18, 1998: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide veterinary care to a tiger named Bulba who was extremely thin. The inspector also found several outdated medications, improper and moldy food storage, and unsanitary housekeeping.

May 13-17, 1998: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide adequate veterinary care . An elephant had an accumulation of necrotic skin and abrasions. All elephants were in need of foot care, skin care, and exercise. The condition of the animals suggested that they had been housed in the transport trailer for an extended period of time.

The inspector observed blood and blood stains on an elephant’s face and earflap.

The animals did not have access to water. When the inspector instructed the handler to offer water, two elephants drank continuously from a bucket for eight minutes and two others drank continuously for five minutes.

April 7, 1998: The USDA cited Hawthorn for improper maintenance of transport trailers.

March 16, 1998: Cuneo agreed to a fine of $60,000 and a 45-day license suspension to settle USDA charges that his company mistreated elephants after two of his elephants died of tuberculosis in August 1996.

February 26, 1998: Hawthorn was cited for failure to have an adequate veterinary care program and a written contingency plan for elephant escapes.

November 20-21, 1997: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failing to provide veterinary care. The tuberculosis treatment protocol prescribed for the elephants was not being followed . The inspector also found improper food storage and poor housekeeping.

October 9, 1997: Hawthorn was cited for improper food storage.

September 16, 1997: The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration informed Hawthorn that an inspection “disclosed the following potential hazard: Employees were exposed to the Mycobacterium tuberculosis when they worked around elephants infected with tuberculosis. … [T]his letter serves as notification of the likelihood of transmission of tuberculosis from elephants to employees.”

July 23, 1997: The USDA filed charges against Hawthorn , alleging it continued exhibiting tigers in Albuquerque, N.M., while its license was suspended.

April 10, 1997: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failing to provide veterinary care. The inspector noted that the tuberculosis treatment and testing protocol prescribed for the elephants by the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians was not being followed . Hawthorn was also cited for failing to maintain structures.

February 6, 1997: Hawthorn was cited for failure to provide veterinary care . The inspector wrote, “Lota is extremely thin and eyes appear to be sunken in.” The inspector also found outdated medication.

The USDA suspended Hawthorn’s license for 21 days after the exhibitor attempted to export a baby elephant named Nickolaus to Puerto Rico despite the fact that the animal had tested positive for tuberculosis.

January 4, 1997: An internal USDA document contained a list identifying facilities with animals who were at risk of tuberculosis due to exposure to Hawthorn’s elephants: Gary Johnson’s elephant compound, Utica Zoo, Catskill Game Farm, Pittsburgh Zoo, Walker Bros. Circus, Alain Zerbini, Tarzan Zerbini, George Carden Circus, Carson & Barnes Circus, Heritage Zoo, and Riddle’s Elephant Farm.

January 1997: Hawthorn’s herd of elephants was prohibited by the USDA from traveling, and Cuneo was not permitted to introduce a breeding bull into the tuberculosis-infected herd. Fourteen of the 18 elephants were considered at high risk of being infected.

November 12, 1996: Cuneo rejected an offer to send a 45-year-old elephant named Lota to a sanctuary. The Milwaukee Zoo donated Lota to Cuneo in 1990 despite a public outcry. The publicized transport depicted Lota being beaten onto a trailer, falling, and urinating blood. Lota was subsequently leased to circuses, contracted tuberculosis, and became emaciated.

October 22, 1996: Florida health officials obtained a court injunction to stop Liz and Lota, two Hawthorn elephants who were traveling with Walker Bros. Circus, from entering the state because they were infected with tuberculosis .

August 29, 1996: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to properly store food and maintain records of acquisition and disposition.

August 28, 1996: According to an internal USDA memo, four Hawthorn employees tested positive for tuberculosis .

August 15, 1996: USDA Acting Deputy Administrator Ron DeHaven wrote regarding discovery of a human strain of tuberculosis in Hawthorn’s elephants, ” [T]he state of New Mexico has told Hawthorn to leave the state or be quarantined. “There are huge epidemiological considerations , too, since Cuneo buys, sells, trades, and moves elephants like a livestock market.”

August 6, 1996: A 26-year-old Hawthorn elephant named Hattie, who was leased to Circus Vargas and gave rides to children just prior to her death, died of tuberculosis while being transported from California to Illinois.

August 3, 1996: A 35-year-old Hawthorn elephant named Joyce, who was leased to Circus Vargas and gave rides to children until her death, died under anesthesia for a dental exam. She was anesthetized against the advice of a veterinarian who felt the procedure was too risky for an animal in such a debilitated state. Joyce was 1,000 pounds underweight, and 80 percent of her lung tissue had been destroyed by tuberculosis .

July 18, 1996: A Hawthorn white tiger bit the hand of a carnival worker while performing at the Orange County Fair in Middletown, N.Y.

July 17, 1996: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide veterinary care and proper food and to maintain records on the animals.

June 21, 1996: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide veterinary care .

June 18, 1996: Hawthorn was cited for failure to provide veterinary care . The inspector noted, “Lack of records demonstrating observation and treatment of injury to the skin approximately 2 inches medial to Misty’s [elephant’s] left eye.” The inspector also observed that the current veterinary care program was not being followed and records of acquisition were not maintained.

June 14, 1996: A Hawthorn elephant named Misty, who was giving rides to children with Jordan World Circus and was previously identified as “potentially dangerous,” knocked down and repeatedly kicked her trainer . One child fell off the elephant during the incident in Casper, Wyo.

May 10, 1996: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failing to provide access to veterinary records.

May 7, 1996: Hawthorn paid a $12,500 penalty to settle USDA charges of causing Tyke trauma and harm and of jeopardizing public safety. Police shot Tyke to death on August 20, 1994 after she rampaged and killed her trainer.

March 27, 1996: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide an adequate veterinary care program and maintain records of acquisition.

March 25, 1996: The USDA cited Hawthorn for inadequate housekeeping, pest control, and food storage.

October 26, 1995: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide adequate shelter and water for the elephants, improper food storage, and failure to submit an itinerary.

August 21, 1995: Hawthorn was cited for failure to provide adequate shelter for the elephants.

July 28, 1995: The USDA cited Hawthorn for inadequate structural maintenance.

January 20, 1995: In an internal USDA document, Acting Deputy Administrator Ron DeHaven identified Hawthorn elephants Sue, Billy, Misty, Tony, and Hattie as “potentially dangerous .”

January 17, 1995: According to USDA documents, while Michael Pursley worked for Hawthorn, “David Polke instructed Pursley to command Hattie to ‘lay down’ ( sic ) and then beat Hattie with an ax handle. … [T]rainers also used water and food deprivation and electric shock from a cattle prod on the elephants. … [H]e witnessed Tommy Thompson, manager at Cuneo’s animal facility at Richmond, Ill., shock (hot shot) an elephant repeatedly for one-half hour in order to get the elephant to lay down ( sic ) and get up upon voice commands.”

December 17, 1994: A Hawthorn elephant named Dumbo died of tuberculosis .

October 26, 1994: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide veterinary care records for an elephant named Amy who had been euthanized. Hawthorn was also cited for inadequate housekeeping and pest control, as well as failure to maintain records of acquisition and disposition.

September 15, 1994: Hawthorn was cited for the second time in three months for feeding inedible food to the tigers.

August 20, 1994: While performing at the Neal Blaisdell Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, a 20-year-old Hawthorn elephant named Tyke crushed to death her trainer, Allen Campbell, attacked and injured two others, and panicked the crowd, causing several more injuries . Tyke escaped into the streets of downtown Honolulu during the afternoon rush hour. Over the next hour, police fired 87 bullets into Tyke as she charged after pedestrians and smashed vehicles throughout several blocks. Tyke died of massive nerve damage and hemorrhaging of the brain.

Campbell was described as a “punishment-type” trainer who worked the elephants hard. An autopsy found that he had cocaine and alcohol in his system.

July 14, 1994: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide a program of veterinary care .

June 16, 1994: Hawthorn was cited for feeding inedible food to the tigers.

May 11, 1994: The USDA cited Hawthorn for inadequate structural maintenance.

May 9, 1994: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide a veterinary care program and medical records . Hawthorn was also cited for failure to maintain a transport trailer for the elephants and maintain records of acquisition and disposition.

February 14, 1994: The USDA cited Hawthorn for failure to provide a veterinary care program .

January 13-14, 1994: The USDA cited Hawthorn for unsanitary and improper food storage, poor housekeeping, and having outdated medications and dirty water containers.

July 23, 1993: An elephant named Tyke ran amok at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, N.D., trampling and injuring a handler and frightening the crowd as she ran uncontrolled for 25 minutes.

April 22, 1993: According to an affidavit obtained by the USDA from circus worker Richard Rosio, Tyke attacked a tiger trainer while the circus was in Altoona, Pa.

April 21, 1993: An elephant named Tyke ripped through the front doors of the Jaffa Mosque during a performance and ran out of control for an hour in Altoona, Pa. An estimated 4,500 schoolchildren had to evacuate the building, and the rampage caused more than $14,000 in damage.

February 4, 1993: A Hawthorn employee, Bernhard Rosenquist, was charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery, and armed violence for allegedly stabbing a coworker. Rosenquist was also wanted by federal authorities as a probation violator and by the Lake County, Ill., authorities on burglary charges.

June 21, 1988: According to USDA and Canadian law enforcement documents, while a Hawthorn elephant named Tyke was performing with Tarzan Zerbini Circus, ” The elephant handler was observed beating the single-tusk African elephant in public to the point [where] the elephant was screaming and bending down on three legs to avoid being hit . Even when the handler walked by the elephant after this, the elephant screamed and veered away, demonstrating fear from his presence.” The handler was John Caudill (a.k.a. John Walker of Walker Bros. Circus) who admitted to “disciplining” Tyke after she hit Caudill’s brother and put a hole in his back with her tusk.

May 28, 1981: An 11-year-old Hawthorn elephant named Tina, with a one-year history of weight loss, died under anesthesia and was found to have tuberculosis .

1978: A Hawthorn Corporation elephant performing in Chicago with the Shrine Circus picked up her trainer with her trunk and threw him into a pillar, killing him.

For more information, contact: PETA
501 Front St.
Norfolk, VA 23510

The circus is no fun for the animals

Check for yourself to see if they meet the sanctuary standards for an accredited animal refuge.

USDA report HERE


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