USDA looking into Wilkes-Barre circus death
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USDA looking into Wilkes-Barre circus death

Agency confirms complaints from two animal rights groups after elephant killed groomer.

By Jen Marckini [email protected]
Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE – A spokesman from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday confirmed the agency received a letter from an animal-rights group asking for an investigation of a fatal elephant attack at the Irem Shrine Circus last week.

The agency is looking into the April 9 incident in which an animal groomer at the circus was killed by the show’s lone elephant, Dumbo, according to Dave Sacks of the USDA’s animal and plant health inspection service.

USDA officials received a letter from the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals requesting the agency investigate the incident and revoke the license of the animal exhibitor who provided the elephant.

Sacks said the agency began an investigation into the incident on Saturday – one day after the incident that occurred in between shows at the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 109th Field Artillery Armory, Wilkes-Barre.

“Our investigator will continue to gather as many facts as possible in order to determine if there were any violations of the Animal Welfare Act that may have contributed to this unfortunate incident,” Sacks said.

The agency enforces the Animal Welfare Act, which, according to Sacks, is a federal set of minimum-care standards that must be met by USDA licensees to ensure the humane treatment of animals that are exhibited to the public.

USDA also received a complaint from Stop Animal Exploitation Now.

“We will incorporate SAEN’s allegations into the same investigation that we are currently conducting,” Sacks said.

The female African elephant killed her groomer, Andrew Anderton, 48, of Florida, who was trying to fix electrical wires in the ceiling attached to the wall that were sparking near the elephant, according to circus officials and police reports.

The elephant was startled after coming in contact with the wires and somehow inflicted traumatic injuries on Anderton, who subsequently died, reports indicate.

USDA inspection reports show that Wonderful World of Animals of Peoria, Ill., is the licensed facility that owns the elephant. Joe Frisco is the licensee who provided Irem Shrine with the elephant.

A check of the facility’s inspection reports show a good compliance record with federal Animal Welfare Act standards and that it is in good standing with USDA.

USDA received the following complaints regarding Dumbo in the past:

In June 2007, someone contacted the agency alleging the elephant swallowed an aluminum can. After a thorough inspection, USDA officials found this to be an invalid complaint.

In April 2009, PETA contacted USDA alleging the elephant had excessive scars on its head. The agency also found this to be an invalid complaint because “the elephant was simply shedding some skin on her head.”

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