Entertainment  > It's an Elephant's Life


PETA's "Animal Times" -- Winter 1997


After years of abuse, do Lota and Calle have a chance for happiness? Both Lota and Calle were born into free-roaming herds in Asia. For them, life would have been very different without the circus. They would have spent their entire lives at their mothers' sides in a family of sisters, aunts and cousins, enjoying long childhoods, playing with other youngsters, cooling off in water holes and dozing in the shade under the vast skies of their native lands. Gradually they would have learned how to care for the herd's newborns. Eventually they would have had the joy of raising their own families.


Lota's Story


Lota was born in India in 1952. At the age of 6, she was trapped and sold to the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin. For the next 32 years, Lota was confined to a small, concrete stall, nothing more than a living museum piece. Lota was "trained" to behave by an elephant "consultant," who has been captured on video repeatedly digging sharp bullhooks into elephants' tender skin and ignoring the screams of injured, frightened elephants.


In 1990, zoo officials passed Lota on to the Hawthorn Corporation in Illinois because, like many elephants imprisoned for years, she had become "aggressive." On the day she was forced from the only "home" she had known since infancy, the terrified Lota refused to move and was roped, chained, beaten and dragged from her stall. Witnesses said that blood flowed from the back of the moving truck. Hawthorn, Lota's new "home," an animal-leasing business begun by millionaire John Cuneo, was a large, dark shed, in which chained elephants were warehoused until Cuneo could rent them out. In 1994, Lota was sent to perform at the Walker Bros. Circus.


In May 1996, the Hawthorn Corporation was fined for violations of animal welfare laws. That August, Hawthorn elephants Hattie and Joyce collapsed and died of tuberculosis. The exhausted animals had been forced to perform up until their deaths. By October of that year, Lota was also obviously ill but she, too, was still forced to travel and perform. Suspecting that Lota had tuberculosis, Florida officials turned the circus back at the state line.


In February 1997, Walker Bros. Circus was fined by the U.S. government for failing to provide veterinary care, for hiring inexperienced animal handlers and for transporting animals in unsafe vehicles. Hawthorn's license to exhibit animals was (temporarily) suspended when Cuneo was caught trying to ship a baby elephant with tuberculosis to Puerto Rico.


As we go to print, Lota is still in the hands of a company that will rent her out to circuses, unaware that so many are fighting for her freedom and retirement.


Calle's Story


Calle was born in Asia in 1966. As a 1-year-old, she was captured, taken from her mother, shipped to the U.S. and sold to a "trainer" named Howard Johnson. For the next 20 years, Calle was rented to circuses all over North America and then used as a "prop" in a Las Vegas show. When the show closed, Calle was kept chained in the hotel basement.


In 1987, Calle was sold to a new "owner" who put her to work giving rides to children. Three years later, Calle was sold again. In 1991, while traveling with a circus in Mexico, the trailer carrying Calle flipped completely over and she was injured.


Two years later, Calle ended up at the Los Angeles Zoo.


After so many years of harsh treatment, Calle may have finally cracked. She injured a zoo handler in October 1996 and the zoo shipped her back to Johnson to house where they decided her fate.


It wasn't until April 1997 that the Los Angeles Zoo admitted that Calle had been suffering from tuberculosis. Calle was moved again, this time to the San Francisco Zoo and housed alone. Today Calle is 31. She remains all alone there.