Friday, March 19, 2004

Elephants seized
from trainer whose Tyke
stomped Kakaako

WASHINGTON >> For the first time in its history, the Agriculture Department is seizing a herd of elephants from a circus trainer in a mistreatment case.

The elephants belong to John Cuneo Jr. and his Hawthorn Corp., who were also the owners of Tyke, the elephant that fatally injured his trainer during a circus performance at the Neal Blaisdell Center in 1994. Tyke ran out of the Blaisdell and rampaged through Kakaako before being shot to death by police.

An agreement between the department and Cuneo and his company, which took effect this week, requires the animals to be removed by August from the company's farm in Richmond, Ill., northwest of Chicago. Cuneo also must pay a $200,000 fine.

The department's Animal Care Program will have the elephants moved to other facilities such as sanctuaries, which are yet to be determined, said Darby Holladay, an Animal Care spokesman.

"We get to place the animals," Holladay said. "That's the win for us."

The Agriculture Department has seized individual elephants before, including one last year from Cuneo, after inspectors found it was not getting proper care. But this is the first time that the department has taken control of an entire herd, Holladay said.

Two of the elephants had tuberculosis, which put the other 14 at risk of contracting the disease, Holladay said. Under terms of the agreement, Cuneo must have the animals treated, and the department will watch to make sure they get the care they need.

Cuneo admitted in the 19-point consent decree to violations of the Animal Welfare Act in addition to inadequate veterinary care. Among the violations: He and his company failed to keep the animals at proper distances from people during exhibitions.

The company trains animals and provides animals and trainers to circuses, said David Weintraub, a company spokesman. Cuneo has no plans to buy more elephants, he said.

Cuneo will retain his license to exhibit animals, Holladay said.

The company still has one lion as well as 60 white tigers and 27 other tigers on its property, Weintraub said. Holladay said no problems had been reported in the treatment of the lion and the tigers.

For the 1994 incident in Honolulu, Cuneo eventually paid a $12,500 fine for Tyke's rampage.


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