Patrick Healy, Peter Garrow and Tom Bravo
Animal rights groups are up in arms after an animal activist reported seeing a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus elephant collapse while being loaded into a rail boxcar following following Sunday night's finale at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
It's a tradition that goes back a century and a half, elephants in the circus. But in recent years the use of the pachyderms have been questioned by a growing chorus of animal rights advocates.
One of them, Ameer Sanghvi, stationed himself with his camera at the Anaheim Train Depot Sunday night when Ringling Bros. was loading its elephants. He says he saw them having difficulty with one elephant named Sarah.
"They were struggling to get her on the ramp. She finally managed to get on the ramp and that's when she collapsed on her back on the gravel with rough rocks on the floor," according to Ameer Sanghvi, an animal rights advocate.
Sanghvi says it took them 15 minutes to get the animal up.
Animal Defenders International (ADI) has filed a formal complaint calling on USDA Western Regional Director, Robert Gibbens, to check on Sarah, reports Businesswire.com.
Ringling Bros. has responded, saying that the critics are exaggerating.
Elephant manager Brian French said the elephant simply lost her footing and was not hurt.
"She was at an angle that she couldn't get up easily, so we allowed her to rotate around so that her feet were downhill, and then let her rest and calm down and make sure she was okay, and allowed her to get up on her own when she was ready.," according to French.
But Animal Defenders International says the circus had been criticized in a June report by the USDA, and they suspect that the elephant is affected by an underlying health condition.
"Elephants are sure footed. It's a sign that the sickness that she has is causing her real issues. She should be pulled off the road to get the proper veterinary care that she needs," says to Matt Rossell, from Animal Defenders International.
"Sarah's a healthy elephant," according to French. "She's been checked on by our vets on multiple occasions and they've given her a clean bill of health."
Ultimately Animal Defenders and other advocacy groups want laws forbidding circuses from having exotic animals.
Ringling Bros. says that is misguided, and they say the animals benefit from the exercise.
It's a debate that won't end anytime soon.