By Dick Myers
Leonardtown, MD -- A local group has begun a two-day picket at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds to protest the use of elephants at the Cole Brothers Circus performing there. No More Sad Elephants co-founder Trish Cole (no relation to those who founded the circus) told The Bay Net that the purpose of the protest is to get the attention of the St. Mary’s County Fair Board and the Commissioners of St. Mary’s County in hopes they will not allow the circus to use the fairgrounds in the future.
Bowing to persistent protests from animal rights organizations, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey announced last month that its three touring circuses, which perform 1,000 shows yearly, would phase out elephant acts by 2018. Cole Brothers, which was founded in 1884, has been steadfast in its policy of keeping the elephants and other animal acts.
Earlier this month Cole’s Ringmaster Chris Connors told a North Carolina TV station that the elephants and other animals were Cole’s big draw. He told WNCT TV, “We preserve the animal and that's what we do," says Connors. "We showcase the animals. The tigers, the ponies, the dogs, the elephants. They are our family. They're the number one reason we're here."
Cole told The Bay Net that the problems for the elephants are not always visible to people attending the circuses. The conditions include “a grinding travel itinerary and no room to roam or turn around.” She also cited safety concerns for those attending the circus, considering the size of the elephants and the fact they are wild animals. The elephants during the show are brought by their handlers very close to the stands occupied by children.
According to published reports in the mainstream media and by animal rights organizations, Cole Brothers has been cited numerous times by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Cole and several others picketed Monday, April 27 before the 4 and 7 p.m. shows at the fairgrounds on Route 5 south of Leonardtown. They intended to be back Tuesday, April 28 at the same times before the final two shows. She said circus representatives had attempted to get them to leave but they refused because they had been told by the sheriff’s department they were within their rights to protest.
Cole hopes their actions will dissuade potential customers from attending. She want’s them to know that by attending they are condoning animal cruelty and abuse.
In 1995, a 450-pound white tiger in the care of Cole Brothers escaped and terrorized visitors in a nearby park in Queens, NY. A $60 million lawsuit was filed by persons injured in a car wreck in the aftermath of the incident. .
Cole Brothers in 2012 was fined $15,000 by USDA for violating the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (AWA) which outlines the minimum requirements for care and treatment of animals used for research or exhibition.