There is little love lost between the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and PETA has gone after “The Greatest Show on Earth” at every possible turn.

Ringling Bros. Elephants Image/Video Screen Shot
Ringling Bros. Elephants
Image/Video Screen Shot

Yesterday, I wrote about a PETA report and the numerous allegations against Ringling concerning tuberculosis (TB) in their traveling elephants for the Animal Diseases category for the website. The report contained links to laboratory reports on TB tests on Ringling elephants.

I contacted Feld Entertainment to get a statement and rebuttal to the PETA allegations and Stephen Payne, Vice President of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment emailed the following:

Allegations that Ringling Bros. traveling elephants are infected with tuberculosis are patently false.   The latest misrepresentations and false claims are misguided scare tactics that are wrongfully based on a test, called STAT-PAK, that was never conclusive, sometimes inaccurate and was the subject of at least one lawsuit as a result.  The test is subsequently no longer in use in the United States. See Elephant Walk, Inc. v. Chembio Diagnostics, Inc., Case No. 1:13-cv-195 (N.D. Fla. ). 

Claims that elephants with a reactive test result are infected and diagnosed with the disease are simply not true and exhibit a reckless disregard for public safety and the science involved with such a complex issue.  All touring elephants are required to undergo continuous, regular testing that is overseen by the USDA and monitored at the state level as well.

The serological test results referred to in the documents obtained by PETA are not proof of infection. A “reactive” result on a serological test only suggests the presence of antibodies in the blood and that is not the same as being infected. These serologic tests have not been fully validated, and while useful as a screening tool, should not be used or misinterpreted as a conclusive solo diagnostic tests.

Elephants are susceptible to infection by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) complex organisms, which is the same form of the disease found in humans. However, Mtb is transmitted only through close, prolonged contact with a person or animal that is actively infected and shedding the organism. Thus, even if an elephant were infected, all scientific evidence makes it clear that casual exposure or even contact with an elephant does not present any recognizable risk to humans. Therefore, transmission of elephant Mtb to humans is primarily an occupational health concern rather than a general public health concern.

Ringling Bros. complies with USDA testing requirements for Mtb in elephants and also regularly tests all staff who work with or have regular contact with elephants. In the past 15 years, there has been a single case where a traveling elephant produced a positive trunk wash, and she was immediately removed from travel and placed in quarantine.  At no time was the public ever in danger of contamination.  The elephant was then successfully treated.

The latest round of criticism from PETA comes on the heels of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announcement that the elephant shows will end in 2018.