March 6, 1998

David L. Towne, President
American Zoological Association
c/o Woodland Park Zoo
5500 Phinney Avenue, North
Seattle, WA 98103

Re: Elephants Supplied to Circuses

Dear Mr Towne:

You may or may not be aware of the incident that occurred recently at a circus held at my alma mater, Mentor High School, in Mentor, Ohio. The circus is an annual fundraising-type event hosted at Mentor High School by the Parent-Teachers Association every February [President's Day Weekend].

While I have a personal abhorrence to circuses in general because of the treatment and care, or lack thereof, that circus animals receive, the circus event this year only served to strengthen my disdain. Two animals, an elephant and a zebra "rioted". That is, the zebra broke loose and charged some people and the elephant broke loose and fled--having to be recaptured by a trainer. Thankfully, neither humans nor non-human animals were seriously injured, but the occurrence affirmed my conviction that such animals do not belong chained up, forced to travel under poor conditions and perform in confined and probably at times frightening locations. Under the stress of such conditions, these two animals "cracked" and acted out.

I write to you specifically about elephants because (1) they have a special place in my heart and (2) because of their large size, it seems these confinements must be all the more stressful and frightening to the animal. Also, I know that elephants are an exceptionally social and family-oriented species and most circuses just simply do not have the means to care for their needs psychologically (through socialization, etc.). Not only are they separated from their families, but often they are kept/housed separately from others of their own species in the circus environment. This is not to discount the discomfort and suffering of other circus animals, including the panicked zebra, but I felt particularly moved to write about the elephants.

I know that this is not an isolated incident regarding an elephant breaking free, charging, etc. Fortunately, this time--unlike other newspaper accounts I've read--the elephant did not cause serious harm to any other animals or people and did not necessitate its own destruction to end a panicked rampage. I have also recently read news stories regarding the poor health of circus elephants including those forced to perform for the public while suffering from diseases such as tuberculosis and most recently of the death of a 3-year-old elephant resulting from a poorly treated illness while performing with the Ringling Brothers circus.

So, I am writing to you, Mr. Towne, because I am also aware that circus elephants are or can often be obtained through zoos. As President of the American Zoological Association, I am hoping that you are in a position to encourage and/or propose regulations within your association to discourage AZA-accredited zoos from supplying circuses with elephants (or other animals, if possible) and encourage education regarding the needs of elephants. I thank you for the time you have given me in reading my letter and hope that my words will inspire you to speak out in this case for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Leigh-Anne Dennison

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