The Tragedy of Beulah
On July 28, 2016, CWI sent an emergency complaint to the USDA. We'd received critical information from a visitor to the Broome County Fair in Binghampton, New York that an elephant on display was "peeing blood." The individual who reported this information also shared that he was with his family at the time, and that his children became very distressed upon seeing this, as did several other members of the public who were present.
We didn't waste a second and rushed this information to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) division of the USDA, which is tasked with enforcing the federal Animal Welfare Act in relation to wild animals found in circuses. We informed the USDA that local officials refused to intervene and that we were requesting an emergency veterinary check to ensure the health and well-being of the elephant, who we'd identified as Beulah of Commerford & Sons.
We received no reply.
Beulah passed away in September of 2019 while on the property of The Big E in West Springfield, Massachusetts. The cause of death was later confirmed by the USDA as sepsis caused by a uterine infection.
Recently, a large cache of information on Commerford & Sons was provided to another organization by the USDA. In it, CWI's complaint appears along with a response by a USDA inspector. The inspection performed on August 15th, two weeks after the filing of our complaint, found that Beulah had been diagnosed several years prior to our report with a medical condition that involved the passage of "dark red to purple...mucoid, stringy material from her vulva as one of the clinical signs." An "attending veterinarian" had given instructions for her care. Were those instructions followed By Commerford & Sons? It is unknown. What is known is that they continued to haul Beulah around for photo ops and display.
In a 2019 memo, a USDA inspector noted that Beulah had an approximate decade-long "history of occasional blood and mucopurulent discharge in her urine. Uterine tumors were suspected.” Despite this, the USDA continued to sanction her appearances with Commerford & Sons. Ultimately Beulah died after collapsing several times at The Big E following a decade of medical issues known by both Commerford and the USDA.
What can we learn from Beulah's death? And how can we prevent a similar situation going forward?
If you witness an elephant in distress at a circus, always first contact local Animal Control. Following that, contact CWI. Details of the incident (including date, time, location, and specifics of what you witnessed), photos, and video are extremely helpful.
We must remain vigilant and monitor any instance in which an elephant is used in traveling entertainment, whether it is a circus, fair, or other event. Public demonstrations, letters to the editor of local papers, and educating others on your social media are helpful tools to raising awareness regarding circus cruelty. Get involved and learn more at our dedicated site: circusprotest.com.
Create a ban in your city, county, or state on the use of elephants (or, even better, all animals!) in traveling entertainment. You may contact us for assistance with this at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CWI also sees numerous issues with the USDA in the handling of Beulah's case and is presently working on a project in conjunction with the Animal Legal Defense Fund to address some of them. The manner in which information on elephant death is relayed to the public by the USDA is lacking and disempowers those of us working toward the health and well-being of elephants. We will share more on our work in this area in future updates.
Commerford & Sons had three elephants, Beulah, Karen (who died of kidney disease earlier in 2019), and Minnie and now they have just one: Minnie.
Sign and share our petition for Minnie: change.org/saveminnie and implore the USDA to do the right thing and take action for lonely Minnie. (Note: please DO NOT give money to Change.org upon signing the petition as none of that money will go to help Minnie. If you would like to make a donation to support our work to end circus cruelty, please visit: cwint.org/donate.)