Fort Wayne News-Sentinel
Tue, Jan. 24, 2006
PETA says Coliseum must end circuses
By Dan Stockman
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is asking Memorial Coliseum to make this year’s Shrine Circus its last at the arena.
The animal-rights group cited the accident after last year’s circus when an elephant handler was trampled by two Asian elephants he was loading into a trailer. The death was ruled accidental and the coroner said the elephants did not mean to hurt Pierre A. Spenle, who worked for the Tarzan Zerbini International Three Ring Circus.
PETA has cited the Fort Wayne trampling in its protests of circuses across the country; the group contends circus animals “are trained through pain and fear.”
“Wherever there’s a circus with animals, you’ll find bullhooks, whips, electric prods, and other implements of torture,” PETA’s Lisa Wathne said in a written statement. “It’s usually just a matter of time before these frustrated and deprived animals lash out. The Shrine needs to get out of the circus business.”
Steve Johnson, executive director of the Shrine circus in Fort Wayne, said Mizpah Shrine officials are certain that Tarzan Zerbini has all the appropriate safety measures in place and treats its animals humanely. This year’s Shrine Circus begins Thursday.
“It was an unfortunate accident that happened,” Johnson said Monday. “We have folks from (Animal Care and Control) at every show.”
Johnson also took issue with PETA’s statement that “contrary to popular belief, proceeds from Shrine Circuses often go to the temples’ administrative costs, not to the Shriners children’s hospitals.” Johnson said. The Shriners have never said or implied it went to anything other than operations at the Mizpah Center.
“That’s the way we advertise it. It’s on the tickets, it’s on the advertisements in the newspaper. We have never claimed it did anything different,” Johnson said. “I’m a stickler for that.”
Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown said he is confident the circus is safe and the animals are well cared for.
“They’ve had over the years a very good track record with the animals,” Brown said. “It was one of those freak accidents that on occasion will occur.”
Brown noted that however PETA portrays the death of Spenle, it was an accident and not the result of animals lashing out.
“I was the second one to come across the gentleman in the trailer,” Brown said. “I did not witness an excited or irate elephant.”
The Allen County coroner said Spenle, of Plantersville, Texas, apparently fell down and hit his head inside the trailer he had loaded the elephants into.
The animals then thought he was a tire or tree trunk to play with and began kicking and stomping him, officials said.