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Even though Kollman’s USDA exhibitor’s license had been revoked due to a procedural default, Hawthorn believed that, as long as the handler operated as its employee, he could train and present Hawthorn’s tigers, according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animal care inspectors said Kollman was not allowed to handle or present Hawthorn’s tigers because his license had been revoked.

Soul Circus then rescinded its contract with Hawthorn, which suffered income loss and incurred substantial expenses such as freight costs, additional handlers, sawdust and 7,000 pounds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.
© www.sxx.hu/me4sakura

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.



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.
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The circus is no fun for the animals

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

USDA report HERE