Cole Bros. Circus: one of the worst

Each year the Cole Bros. Circus travels thousands of miles across the eastern U.S. with a menagerie of animals including elephants and tigers. The circus has a horrible history of animal abuse and neglect. Not only has Cole Bros. violated federal laws intended to protect animals, but the circus has put children and families at risk by employing dangerously inexperienced elephant and tiger handlers.

Cole Bros. Circus charged with violating the Animal Welfare Act.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the Cole Bros. Circus and its president, John Pugh, had agreed to pay $15,000 to settle charges that it “willfully violated” the Animal Welfare Act. The charges cited multiple alleged violations:
• failure to provide adequate veterinary care to animals; specifically, one elephant was found to be severely underweight.
• failure to handle an elephant in a way that assured the safety of the animal and the public. The circus employed a handler who lacked adequate training and experience in handling elephants. The USDA found that the handler, “repeatedly hit the elephant with an ankus during both rides and circus performance.”
• employing a tiger handler who “lacked adequate training, knowledge and experience in handling tigers.”

Cole Bros. cited for cruel treatment of elephant, inexperienced animal handlers.
In June 2011, when the circus was performing in Connecticut, a USDA inspector observed the elephant rides and noticed, “on several occasions that the female employee was using excessive force while tugging at the elephant with the ankus.” The USDA inspector noted that the circus employee “has no previous elephant handling experience.” The circus was issued a citation.

Cole Bros. Circus pleads guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act!
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the Cole Bros. Circus and Mr. Pugh had pled guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act for unlawfully selling two Asian elephants (the elephants were confiscated by the USDA). Mr. Pugh was sentenced to three years probation, 100 hours of community service and over $5,000 in fines. The Cole Bros. Circus was ordered to pay a $150,000 fine!

Animal abuse.
Violent, physical abuse remains a common method of training and controlling elephants and other animals in the circus. In 2015, the Cole Bros. Circus is traveling with several elephants under the control of trainer Tim Frisco. Mr. Frisco is infamous for undercover video footage that captured him beating elephants with bullhooks and shocking them with electric prods. In the video, Frisco is heard instructing other elephant trainers to, “Hurt ‘em! Make ‘em scream! … Sink that hook into ‘em … When you hear that screaming, then you know you got their attention!” The disturbing video is widely available online.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Cole Bros. after a handler struck an elephant repeatedly with a broom handle. In 2000, USDA inspectors noted that two Cole Bros. elephants had bullhook scars. In 1999, the USDA charged Cole Bros. with violating the Animal Welfare Act; USDA undersecretary Michael Dunn stated, “We believe that on numerous occasions, employees of the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus abusively used an elephant hook on several animals.”

Public safety concerns.
Elephants and other wild animals used in circuses can be a public safety risk. In April 2010, an adult elephant with the Cole Bros. Circus escaped from her handlers during a stop in Lynchburg, Virginia. The elephant ran past a line of spectators waiting to buy tickets, and was eventually recaptured only after falling into a ditch.


The Cole Bros. Circus, in financial trouble, cancelled its 2016 tour. Even more exciting, it appears that the circus has closed up shop forever! Each year, Cole Bros. performed more shows in more Florida cities than any other circus. The circus has been the target of ARFF protests dating back 25 years. Although the elephants, tigers and other animals that traveled thousands of miles each year with the Cole Bros. Circus most likely will continue to perform with other circuses, ARFF is convinced that the future is bleak for circuses that continue to use animals.

Animal Rights Foundation of Florida
1431 N Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304

Promoting respect and compassion for animals in Florida has been the mission of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida since 1989.

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.