(This letter was submitted in response to the Hill Country News' publication of photos from a recent appearance of the Shrine Circus at H-E-B Center at Cedar Park)
It’s hard to understand how the Shriners, an organization devoted to good works, can still support tigers being whipped into submission and broken elephants being forced to give rides. The Carden family, which produces Shrine circuses across the country, has a deplorable history of failing animals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees circuses, has cited members of the Carden family for failing to provide adequate veterinary care, failing to have safe enclosures for animals, failing to provide animals with sufficient space, failing to provide tigers with proper nutrition, and more. At least two elephants exhibited by the Carden family have tested positive for tuberculosis (TB), and others have been barred from performing because of the possibility that they were carrying TB and could infect humans.
Last year, video footage was taken of an elephant exhibited by Carden Circus International at a Shrine show swaying continuously while confined backstage, an abnormal behavior indicative of stress called "zoochosis." A second elephant used for rides was filmed walking with an abnormal gait, which is a sign of soreness.
The exhibitor who recently provided the tiger act for the circus, Doug Terranova, has been cited and fined multiple times. His most recent fine of $21,500, which included the suspension of his license, stems from an incident in which a tiger escaped from the ring during a performance and came within feet of a member of the public. He was also fined $25,000 by the USDA in 2012 when an elephant he had rented to a circus escaped, ran onto a highway, and was hit by a vehicle, causing the animal to sustain multiple injuries.
If the Shriners are to uphold any measure of ethical integrity, they must stop hiring animal circuses. In the meantime, families that care about animals will stay away when the circus comes to town.