A circus with a shady history is bringing elephants to the city of Garland, which an animal group charges is a violation of Garland's ban on wild animals.
Garden Bros. Circus is scheduled to stop at Garland's Curtis Culwell Center on September 1-2, where its menagerie will include Isa and Viola, two elephants with a history of escaping, including one incident in 2014 in which they got loose for nearly an hour in a parking lot outside St. Louis, Missouri.
Isa was filmed in 2014 charging aggressively toward another elephant before being beaten back by handlers after they lost control of her at a circus venue. And in 2012, Carson & Barnes agreed to pay a $3,714 penalty to settle 10 federal violations, including one related to an escape by Viola after she was spooked by a rabbit.
Garden Bros. has become a target of animal advocacy groups such as PETA and Animal Defenders International, due among other things to its history of using outdated, abusive methods such as bullhooks and and even tasing.
A bullhook is a weapon that resembles a fireplace poker with a sharp hook on one end, and it's been banned by a number of cities and even entire states such as California and Rhode Island.
And a taser, well you know what that is. Ouch.
PETA sent a letter on August 27 to Curtis Culwell Center director John Wilborn and to Ricardo López, superintendent of the Garland Independent School District (the center is, strangely, operated by the school district), highlighting Garland's ban on harboring wild, exotic, or dangerous animals within the city.
"PETA is alerting the Curtis Culwell Center that if it allows this circus to drag its abusive elephant act into town, it could be held accountable for creating a public nuisance," states PETA Foundation VP Delcianna Winders in the letter. "If Garden Bros. Circus won't perform without elephants, it shouldn't be performing at all."
Reached by phone, Wilborn said, "We've had circuses for six years but I'm not able to comment on this."
The city of Garland's code of ordinances prohibits possessing or harboring an exotic or wild animal. It is unlawful to have a dangerous animal including "any animal of any species that has . . . by its acts or conduct exhibited dangerous propensities," such as charging aggressively toward a person or other animal.
A spokesperson for the city of Garland says that the law does not apply to the circus. "The dangerous animal ordinance refers to specific individual animals, not groups or types of animals," she says.
But PETA says that Garland's Code of Ordinances § 22.19(A)(3) prohibits all wild and exotic animals.
"The law is clear: It's illegal to bring any wild or exotic animal into the city of Garland, and the two elephants specifically used by Garden Bros. Circus have histories of making dangerous escapes," says Rachel Mathews, who is PETA Foundation's deputy director of captive animal law enforcement. "The Curtis Culwell Center must ensure that Garden Bros. doesn't run afoul of the law and place the public at risk by dragging these long-suffering elephants into town."
Garden Bros. has an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau. It gets its elephants from Carson & Barnes, whose head trainer Tim Frisco was caught on video attacking elephants with a bullhook and an electric prod.
In a whistleblower complaint, a former Garden Bros. employee described seeing elephants with blood dripping from behind their ears.
Carson & Barnes also has a history of exhibiting elephants with tuberculosis, which is potentially deadly and highly contagious to humans — even without direct contact.
Garden Bros. is a one-ring circus whose touring schedule has tapered off considerably in recent years, with the only stops it makes usually relegated to unsuspecting small towns such as Laredo.
Its practice is to lure in attendees with low entry prices — then charge $12 for a bag of cotton candy.
Elephant rides remain a sorry moneymaker. Circus-goers can pay up to $18 per child for a 2-minute ride in which the elephant is loaded down with multiple kids at a time.