Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva is determined not to let the U.S. Department of Agriculture forget about Nosey, the 32-year-old African circus elephant he and other animal welfare advocates say has “reportedly undergone long-term abuse and has suffered serious, willful, and chronic violations of the Animal Welfare Act.”
For months, Grijalva has been the loudest congressional voice demanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture take greater action and revoke her owner’s license, and this week, he’s at it again, sending U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack a strongly worded letter about Nosey.
Nosey belongs to Hugo Liebel of the Florida-based Liebling Brothers Family Circus, performing and giving rides to the public around the country.
Animal welfare advocates says her allegedly abusive situation was brought to their attention a little over a year ago, and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals group hired an independent veterinarian with more than 30 years of experience with large animals to assess Nosey.
On October 13, 2014, Dr. Philip K. Ensely, wrote a letter to Vilsack:
“I found this to be the worst, most prolonged, documented example of an uncorrected case of suffering and abuse in an elephant I have ever reviewed . . . These are serious conditions causing suffering and chronic pain that did not just appear overnight. These are progressive conditions acquired cumulatively caused by an improper standard of care and living conditions and inadequate veterinary care.”
Grijalva learned about her situation, and in July, got 31 of his congressional colleagues to co-sign another letter to Vilsack expressing their concern about shortcomings in the federal oversight of her situation:
“We understand that USDA officials evaluated Nosey on November 7, 2014 and January 17, 2015 and reported no findings of lameness or abnormalities that would interfere with normal function. However, we believe there is evidence to demonstrate the USDA’s interpretation of both examinations to have been insufficient to fully evaluate Nosey’s health and that further in-depth and ongoing comprehensive examinations are necessary,” Grijalva’s letter states.
Vilsack promised that USDA inspectors would re-examine the situation, but according to the letter Grijalva sent this week, the department “[relied] on an evaluation arranged for by Mr. Liebel’s attending veterinarian.”
Grijalva says he’s “deeply concerned” about the evaluation: “Without independently assessing the adequacy of the methods and determinations used, the suitability of the examinations remains in question,” he writes. “Please explain why Mr. Liebel’s veterinarian was permitted to identify an individual for this evaluation.”
Grijalva’s letter goes on to detail his other concerns about the “persistent weaknesses” in how the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service enforces the Animal Welfare Act.
A 2014 report by the Inspector General “found that, since 1992, APHIS has chronically failed to enforce the Animal Welfare Act effectively, in part because of a broken penalty scheme that rewards settlement and fails to deter future violations,” Grijalva writes.
Court documents show that the agency has documented multiple issues about Nosey’s condition dating back to April 2007 and has suggested her owner’s license be revoked. Why she is still with him remains unclear — the USDA did not immediately respond to New Times request for comment.
But as far as Grijalva’s concerned, Nosey is a prime example of why “Animal welfare needs more priority.”
Read Grijalva's Letter to Tom Vilsack:
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Watch a recent PETA video about Nosey: