Three abrasions on an elephant performing at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus in Anaheim prompted an animal welfare group on Saturday to call for a federal inspection.
Delcianna Winders, a lawyer for the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, sent the U.S. Department of Agriculture a photo and video of the elephant with the abrasions. The footage was taken Thursday night at the Honda Center.
"Please have this elephant promptly inspected to determine the cause of these abrasions and whether the elephant [has] received adequate veterinary care," she wrote. Winders questioned whether the elephant was injured from a bullhook or transporting the animal in an unsafe transport enclosure.
A spokesman for the Ringling's parent company said the elephant, Bonnie, is healthy and has 24-hour access to veterinary care.
"Bonnie scratched herself by rubbing on something -- it might've been a tree trunk she was playing with. She did it to herself, she's been treated by her vet and is perfectly fine," said Stephen Payne, spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling.
PETA and the circus company have had a long-running dispute over how elephants are treated. The argument spilled into Los Angeles City Hall, and in April, the City Council voted 11-0 to ban the use of bullhooks or any other "tool designed to inflict pain for the purpose of training or controlling the behavior of an elephant in the City of Los Angeles."
Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the legislation in May, and the ordinance is set to become effective in 2017. The delay was meant to give circuses time to change how they handle elephants or remove the animals from their shows completely.
Animal rights activists argue that bullhooks, a sharp-tipped tool used to train and keep elephants under control, are cruel and abusive. Circus producers have countered that such tools are needed to exhibit the animals safely, and that banning them means banning the circus entirely.
Winders, the lawyer for PETA, which opposes the use of animals in entertainment, asked authorities to hold the circus company accountable and urged "families to stay away from this cruel circus." The circus is being held at the Honda Center in Anaheim through Aug. 4.
Payne, the spokesman for the circus, called the complaint Saturday "another absurd attempt by PETA to score cheap political points and waste USDA's time," and urged families to come to the circus and ask questions at the circus' open house. He said PETA's staffers "don't know what they're talking about when it comes to taking care of animals. ... We have a 144-year history of taking care of Asian elephants. They have none."
"We were inspected in Ontario; the animals were found to be fine," he added. "These cheap political stunts that they're pulling are really getting tiresome and it's an insult to the people who spend their days caring for their animals."
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