Atlanta: Stop Covering up the Abuse of Circus Animals

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Wounded camels, an injured zebra, elephants with bruised feet, and an elephant named Bo with a wound on his ankle are being denied help from animal services due to apparent misconduct and interference of animal-welfare inspections by county contracts administrator, Oliver Delk.  Video footage shows that he recently ordered Fulton County Animal Services (FCAS) officers to stop filming an inspection of the UniverSoul Circus, in violation of the Intergovernmental Agreement for the Provision of Animal Control Services Between Fulton County, Georgia, and Atlanta, Georgia (IGA).

An agreement between the city and county requires that inspections of circuses be filmed—but video footage from Fulton County Animal Services’ (FCAS) February 8 inspection of the circus reveals that when UniverSoul elephant exhibitor Larry Carden asked FCAS officers to stop filming, county contracts administrator Oliver Delk ordered that they stop filming.

Carden was charged with abusive behavior toward an elephant in Atlanta in 2015 after he allegedly forced Bo offstage by inserting a bullhook (a weapon that resembles a fireplace poker with a sharp hook on one end) into his mouth. This year, an officer tried to get a close photograph of the apparent wound on Bo’s ankle but was unable to get a clear shot because, according to the written report, “‘something’ caused the elephant to move [his] leg when I tried to take pictures. I’m pretty sure [Carden] was doing something to cause this.”

After the officers were ordered to stop filming, a written report from the inspection indicates that the officers observed numerous potentially serious animal-welfare problems. For example, they noted that a camel named Emmett had a 3-inch laceration on his right hind leg, that a camel named Larry had a swollen ankle and foot that needed to be treated and drained, that a zebra had a wound or rub on his nose, and that several horses had hoof cracks that were longer than 2 inches. 

Additionally, the officers found that the elephants Betty and Bo had been given minimal hay, had no water, and were made to stand on concrete, despite having bruised feet. Foot problems in elephants are painful and even life-threatening.

Records show that FCAS has conducted numerous subsequent site visits, finding animals still confined on concrete, despite elephants with "purple/bruised" feet and horses whose hooves were in "bad shape" and "chipped in many places." Moreover, on at least two occasions circus representatives interfered with inspections. In one instance, a performer angrily accosted an officer attempting to observe an elephant, and in another instance, a security guard barred officers from inspecting because there was "no one" on site.

There is no video or photographic evidence of these conditions.

What is Fulton County and the City of Atlanta trying to hide?

A county administrator has no business shielding the circus from scrutiny. Animal Services’ job is to protect animals, which means obtaining evidence, and the question remains, why were they prevented from properly carrying out their duties?

Oliver Delk has obstructed FCAS officers from properly documenting and addressing animal-welfare problems, for the sake of protecting the circus, and has impeded government transparency and public discourse.

Please immediately investigate and ensure that filming of circus inspections resumes as required.



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