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Monday, August 16, 2004



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STAR-BULLETIN / AUGUST 1994
Police look over Tyke the elephant, lying dead against a car on Ilaniwai Street.


Shots killing elephant
echo across a decade


Makakilo resident Donna Wier remembers that horrible day 10 years ago when a man was trampled to death by an 8,000-pound elephant at the Blaisdell Arena.

"It was pretty traumatic," said Wier, who took her sons Dillon, then 6, and Koa, 10 months, to the circus for the first time. "It's still in the back of our minds."

"We were sitting rather close, and I remember when Tyke came out and he was tossing the trainer around. It just happened so fast," she said. "I told my husband. 'This can't be for the show.'"

Wier vowed never again to attend a circus with large animals. "It changed my outlook for entertainment," she said.

Friday marks the 10th anniversary of the day Tyke, a female African elephant, crushed her trainer, Allen Campbell, to death during a circus performance at the Blaisdell Arena. Tyke then bolted out of the Blaisdell Arena into Kakaako, where she was eventually gunned down by police.

Some residents who witnessed the attack said it left them scarred, while others said they have no qualms about attending another circus act with elephants.

Wier said Dillon, now 16, had nightmares after the incident and never wants to go to another circus. "You don't really think it's going to happen," she said.

Paul Guncheom of Kahaluu said he had difficulty focusing on work because of the death of the trainer.

"My mind was stuck on that incident," said Guncheom, a former stage designer who now works as a set dresser for the new NBC TV series "Hawaii."

Guncheom, wife Esther and their two sons were in the third row from the staging area when Tyke charged toward them after crushing Campbell.

The Guncheoms ran out of the arena toward the parking lot after the elephant crashed through the door.

Guncheom was one of dozens of people who filed a complaint against the city, state, Circus International and Tyke's owner, John Cuneo, for emotional distress and physical harm. An out-of-court settlement was reached.

Campbell's widow, Ginger, also filed a $5 million negligence suit against Cuneo, Hawthorn Corp. and Circus International, alleging Cuneo had knowledge of two previous violent incidents involving Tyke.

Neither Cuneo nor Campbell could be reached for comment.


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RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lindsey "Kai" Ching, 13, shown at home in Pacific Palisades, witnessed Tyke's rampage 10 years ago with his mother at Blaisdell Arena.


Two local promoters for the event have died in the last two years. Steve Hirano, who served as a publicist for the event, died in December from pancreatic cancer. He was 57. Hirano was injured during the Tyke incident when he tried to trap the elephant in a vacant lot by closing a gate. A police officer fired his weapon as Tyke attempted to crush Hirano, scaring off the elephant.

In January 2002, promoter Ralph Yempuku died of a heart attack while walking along Kapiolani Park. He was 88. The circus performance was the last promotion Yempuku organized.

Pearl City resident Lisa Ornellas said she and her son, Kai Ching, were unaffected by the incident. Ornellas said she took her son, then 3, to the circus to see the elephants because of his fascination for the mammals.

"It's amazing what he does remember," she said. "I don't think it had a negative impact on him."

Ornellas said she is not against the involvement of elephants in circuses as long as safeguards are in place.

Cuneo was fined $12,500 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after he was charged with two violations of the Animal Welfare Act in the Tyke rampage.

Years later, Cuneo was cited multiple times by the federal government for failure to provide veterinary care for other elephants he owned.

In March the USDA charged Cuneo with 19 violations in a mistreatment case. An agreement was reached between Cuneo and federal officials to send his entire elephant herd to approved locations.

Jim Rogers, spokesman of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the action sends a message that "we are watching, and we care how they are treating animals and how they are supposed to be treated."

Cuneo paid a $200,000 fine and had until yesterday to remove his elephants from his property, said Rogers. He faced revocation of his license to exhibit animals if he failed to relocate his elephants.

Six elephants from his herd were designated to be sent to the 2,700-acre Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., which was established a year after Tyke died.

"Tyke was the catalyst to do it," said co-founder Carol Buckley. "When we found out about Tyke, we said, 'Now is the time.' ... That is what pushed us to do it."

Ten elephants now live at the spacious sanctuary, including Delhi, a 56-year-old elephant that was seized by the federal government from Cuneo's herd in November.

Two elephants -- Lota and Misty -- that were diagnosed with tuberculosis are part of the group of elephants that will be sent to the sanctuary.

Buckley said more needs to be done for the welfare of elephants.

"Ultimately, I would like to see all commercial use of elephants held to a higher standard. I think it's inappropriate to take endangered species from town to town," she said. "It's unethical to put them in the environment that does not meet their needs biologically and physically."

Shannon Pak, spokeswoman for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, one of the largest circus acts in the country, said 50 elephants under their care are well treated despite activists' allegations of mistreatment and pending investigations by the Agriculture Department.

In 1995 the organization established a 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida that supports the reproduction, research and retirement of elephants. Pak said 16 elephants were born at the center in the last 11 years.

"They don't understand our commitment to our animals and the care we provide for them," said Pak.

A circus that includes elephant performances has not come to Hawaii since Tyke's rampage. However, there was an attempt last year by the Bailey Brothers Circus. The organization filed for a permit to bring two Asian elephants for a February circus performance.

But the state Department of Agriculture denied the request due to a lack of documentation. Domingo Cravalho of the Plant Quarantine Branch said the circus did not have a current license to exhibit animals or veterinarian reports for the elephants.

There were no other requests to bring in elephants for circus acts, said Cravalho. An elephant, however, was brought to Honolulu for the filming of the Disney movie "George of the Jungle" in 1997 under strict safeguards.


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Tons of trouble in U.S. zoos and circuses


Here are some of the incidents in the United States involving elephants since Tyke was shot and killed in Honolulu on Aug. 20, 1994.


Dec. 15, 2002: An African elephant named Flora went on a rampage at Miami MetroZoo, knocking and kicking one elephant trainer 15 feet into a pile of rocks and injuring a second one who tried to stop the attack. The zookeeper was critically injured with broken shoulders, a broken arm, a bruised brain and a ruptured spleen.

Nov. 18, 2002: An African elephant at a Pittsburgh zoo butted a zookeeper, pinned him to the ground and crushed him to death with her head. The keeper had been prodding the elephant with a bullhook during a morning walk.

June 17, 2002: Two elephants named Tory and Mary were performing with the Shrine Circus at Menomonie, Wis., when they bolted out of a circus tent during a show. Mary hiked two miles through town and was recaptured at the University of Wisconsin-Stout campus when trucks blocked her escape. One child was injured.

February 2002: An African elephant at the Pittsburgh Zoo injured a former Ringling elephant trainer hired by the zoo, causing a collapsed lung and leg injuries.

June 10, 2001: A 6,700-pound elephant named Hope became startled when her trainer dropped a barrel during a bathing demonstration in Denver. Hope threw her trainer against a wall and knocked over a mother and her baby.

Jan. 26, 2000: An elephant named Kenya attacked and killed her trainer at the Ramos Family Circus winter compound in Riverview, Fla. The elephant was used in Ramos' traveling shows and to give rides.

Dec. 22, 1999: An elephant attacked two keepers at the Henry Villas Zoo in Madison, Wis., throwing one against the wall and grabbing the other in her mouth. The elephant had injured people at least three other times since it was brought to the zoo in 1966.

May 28, 1997: An elephant at the Frank Buck Zoo crushed her handler to death in Gainesville, Texas.

June 14, 1996: An elephant knocked down and repeatedly kicked her trainer in Casper, Wyo. The elephant was giving rides to children at the time of the attack. One child fell off the elephant, which was performing with Jordan World Circus. The elephant is owned by John Cuneo, Tyke's former owner.

May 19, 1995: Two elephants with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus went on a rampage at the North Hanover Mall in Pennsylvania. The elephants smashed store windows, damaged cars and escaped into the woods. One of the elephants, named Frieda, had killed 47-year-old Joan Scovell of New London, Conn., in 1985.

Oct. 10, 1994: A 3-year-old girl was feeding grass to a 15-month-old elephant at the King Royal Circus in Riley County, Kan., when the elephant wrapped his truck around her neck and attempted to pull her into the arena. The girl was treated for injuries at a local hospital.

SOURCE: PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS (PETA)

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