Ringling Bros. elephant retirement due to rampant TB: PETA

AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS HANDOUT PHOTO TO BE USED SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE NEWS REPORTING OR COMMENTARY ON THE FACTS OR EVENTS DEPICTED IN THIS IMAGE. THIS IMAGE MAY ONLY BE USED FOR 14 DAYS FROM TIME OF TRANSMISSION; NO ARCHIVING; NO LICENSING.Gary Bogdon/AP

PETA claims Ringling Bros. has been plagued by TB in its elephants, forcing them to retire the animals. A spokesman for the company vehemently denied the claims.

A damning report showing a high rate of tuberculosis among circus elephants may have forced Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey to announce Thursday the iconic beasts would be retired from shows by 2018, animal rights group PETA claims.

Stephen Payne, a spokesman for the circus’ parent company Feld Entertainment, said PETA’s claims were “laughable” and based on old data relying on a form of testing no longer used by the USDA.

But the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals unearthed documents from the United States Department of Agriculture that show since at least 2010, the traveling circus has had nearly two dozen of the pachyderms diagnosed with a human strain of TB that is easily transmittable to workers, the public and other elephants.

“It is clear from the new information that PETA just received, as well as from the damaging records that we had already gathered, that Ringling must not wait until 2018 to take the elephants out of its tawdry shows but instead retire them from performing on the road or anywhere else immediately,” the group said in a statement Friday.

Payne said some of the results came from an unverified form of testing no longer used by the USDA. He conceded that animals have previously tested positive for TB, but those sickened are quarantined at the group’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.

Aside from one case in Tennessee, Payne said there is no proof TB can be transmitted from elephants to humans. A test is conducted by performing a “trunk wash,” Payne said, where a saline solution is put up the elephant’s trunks and they blow it out into a bag to be cultured and tested.

“When we have one positive, we treat them. This is an animal health issue, not a public health issue,” Payne told the Daily News. “The USDA in many states require us to test for tuberculosis and we even test our own people. Really what this is an attempt by PETA to twist science to fit their agenda. The health of the animals is our top priority.”

On Thursday, when announcing its 43 elephants would be retired by 2018 to a $ 5 million, 200-acre elephant facility in Polk City, Fla., the group said the decision was a result of “a mood shift among our customers.

“A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants,” company Vice President Alana Feld said.

The PETA report portrays the hardworking elephants as cesspools of disease because of their long hours on the road “confined to poorly ventilated boxcars or trailers … subjected to stressful and abusive training practices” that comprise the animals immune systems.

In 2010 alone, at least 16 Ringling elephants tested positive for TB, a third of which have since died, according to PETA.

AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS HANDOUT PHOTO TO BE USED SOLELY TO ILLUSTRATE NEWS REPORTING OR COMMENTARY ON THE FACTS OR EVENTS DEPICTED IN THIS IMAGE. THIS IMAGE MAY ONLY BE USED FOR 14 DAYS FROM TIME OF TRANSMISSION; NO ARCHIVING; NO LICENSING.Stephen Payne/AP

The 43 elephants the company currently use will be retired to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Fla., by 2018.

In 2012, elephant Susan contracted the disease and was later euthanized, the records show. And it 2013, Asia tested positive for TB, while Banko was quarantined in 2014 after a test taken at a Fairfax, Va., show stop came back positive for tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that affects the lungs, and is spread through the air via coughs and sneezes, according to the Mayo Clinic. The disease is treated with antibiotics.

If not treated, it can be fatal.

As of June 2014, Ringling housed nine elephants at its Florida facility under quarantine for TB, according to PETA.

The group claims TB has plagued elephants participating in “the greatest show on Earth” since 1978.

The circus should retire the elephants right now, today, and provide adequate care for them at an appropriate sanctuary,” PETA said in a statement. “Anything less would be irresponsible and reckless.”

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