Cole Bros. Circus Condemned

Circus customers walk by protesters on their way to the Cole Bros. Circus. Photo Credit: Calista Condo, Gloucester County Times

Danielle Hanna, exclusive to Global Animal

Protesters in Oceanside, NY warn circus visitors of the animal cruelty that their dollars will support. Photo credit: Christina Daly / Herald
Animal welfare protesters in Oceanside, NY warn circus visitors of the animal cruelty their dollars will support. Photo credit: Christina Daly / Herald

The Cole Bros. Circus is coming to town, but please don’t bring the kids!

This circus has been traveling around the country since 1884, showing off the abilities of amazing animals. However, how many circus visitors have any idea what’s happening on the other side of the curtain? 

The company has been cited repeatedly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for “failure to correct previously identified noncompliance,” blatantly disregarding laws of minimum standards of care and procedures to help alleviate the medical issues of dangerously underweight elephants.

Besides failing to adequately care for the animals in terms of living conditions, veterinary care, and acceptable forms of discipline in training, Cole Bros. Circus has also been cited for failing to supervise animals in a way that is safe for the animals and the public.

There have been instances recorded where the handler turned his back or even walked away while members of the public were within reach of—or even riding on—elephants, or where only one handler was left to supervise two elephants. Inexperienced or unknowledgable handlers paired with potentially dangerous wild animals is a recipe for disaster.

In 1995, a 450-pound white tiger in the circus’ care escaped and proceeded to frighten crowds of visitors to a nearby park in Queens, NY. The madness caused by the tiger’s escape included many screaming onlookers, a 30-minute pursuit by armed police officers, a five-car pileup, and a $60 million lawsuit filed by individuals injured in the car wreck.

In 2012, Cole Bros. Circus was required by the USDA to pay $15,000 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (AWA) which outlines the minimum requirements for care and treatment of animals used for research or exhibition.

Circus customers walk by protesters on their way to the Cole Bros. Circus. Photo Credit: Calista Condo, Gloucester County Times
Circus customers walk by protesters on their way to the Cole Bros. Circus. Photo credit: Calista Condo, Gloucester County Times

The Cole Bros. Circus President and CEO, John Pugh, plead guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act in 2011 for selling two endangered Asian elephants to a man who intended to use them for entertainment at private parties. The elephants, Jewel and Tina, were taken into federal custody and now live at the San Diego Zoo.

The company was sentenced to four years probation, fined $150,000 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and restricted from owning animals. The animals currently used for their traveling performances are rented from other companies such as Carson & Barnes Circus, which has also been fined by the USDA for AWA violations.

In Defense of Animals (IDA), a California-based organization, has filed complaints about the quality of care supplied by Cole Bros. Circus which resulted in a fine last year for “failure to provide veterinary care to an emaciated elephant, failure to handle an elephant in a way that minimized the risk of harm to the public and the elephant, using handlers who lacked the training and knowledge to safely handle tigers and elephants in public, and illegal trafficking in tigers.”

The animal rights organization continues to request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture investigates the traveling circus’ procedures, especially with regard to two baby elephants, Val and Hugo, who have been separated from their mother.

“In general, animals forced to travel and perform in circuses are deprived of everything that is natural to them – room to roam, participation in family and social groupings, and any ability to exert choice and control over their lives,” said Deborah Robinson of IDA.

“This is particularly hard on animals like elephants, who naturally are on the move for most of the day, and who, in the wild, stay with their mothers for their entire lives, in the case of females, or at least until adolescence if they are males. By contrast, the elephants traveling with Cole, who are leased from Carson and Barnes Circus, spend their days on trucks, in chains or in tiny pens, and have all been taken from their mothers as babies,” Robinson continued.

Protesters have shown up at the circus doors in an attempt to educate visitors about the abuse circus animals face, and have been successful in changing the minds of some who decided to leave rather than support animal cruelty. Below is a list of upcoming circus dates, so you know when and where to take action.

Upcoming 2013 Cole Brothers Circus Dates:

New Jersey

  • Seaville, NJ (2065 Rt. 9-Mile Marker 24-Rt. 9-just North of Cedar Sq. Shopping Center)
    • August 14  4:30 & 7:30
    • August 15  4:30 & 7:30
  • Forked River, NJ (Jones Road Soccer Field-end of Jones Rd. at Horner Lane)
    • August 16  4:30 & 7:30
    • August 17  1:30, 4:30 & 7:30
    • August 18  1:30 & 4:30
  • Oceanport, NJ (Monmouth Park-Parking Lot-Oceanport Ave. & Port-Au-Peck Ave.)
    • August 19  4:30 & 7:30
    • August 20  4:30 & 7:30
    • August 21  4:30 & 7:30
    • August 22  4:30 & 7:30
  • Thorofare, NJ (Crown Point Road-across from Library-Exit 21/I-295)
    • August 26  4:30 & 7:30
    • August 27  4:30 & 7:30


  • Newark, DE (Our of Grace Home Grounds-487 E. Chestnut Hill Road)
    • August 23  4:30 & 7:30
    • August 24  1:30, 4:30 & 7:30
    • August 25  1:30 & 4:30


  • Salisbury, MD (Opposite Wicomico Civic Center-351 Cicic Ave.-Civic Ave. & Glen Ave.)
    • August 28  4:30 & 7:30
    • August 29  4:30 & 7:30


  • Centreville, VA (Bull Run Regional Park-Speical Events Field-7700 Bull Run Drive)
    • August 30  4:30 & 7:30
    • August 31  1:30, 4:30 & 7:30
    • September 1  1:30, 4:30 & 7:30
    • September 2  1:30 & 4:30
  • Fredericksburg, VA (Fredericksburg Agricultural Fairgrounds-2400 Airport Avenue)
    • September 3  4:30 & 7:30
    • September 4  4:30 & 7:30
  • Ashburn, VA (Virginia Academy and Community Church-19790 Ashburn Road)
    • September 5  4:30 & 7:30
    • September 6  4:30 & 7:30
    • September 7  1:30, 4:30 & 7:30
    • September 8  2:00 & 5:00

South Carolina

  • Florence, SC (Florence City-County Civic Center-3300 West Radio Drive)
    • September 10  4:30 & 7:30
    • September 11  4:30 & 7:30
    • September 12  4:30 & 7:30


  • Augusta, GA (Former Regency Mall Site-1700 Gordon Highway)
    • September 13  4:30 & 7:30
    • September 14  1:30, 4:30 & 7:30
    • September 15  1:30, 4:30 & 7:30

More about what’s wrong with the circus:

Protesters Unite Against Cole Brothers Circus

Bob Barker’s Elephant Showcase Showdown

ASPCA Makes Shocking Decision In Ringling Bros. Lawsuit

Protest The Cruelest Show On Earth (SCHEDULE BY CITY)

‘Lion Ark’ Roars For Circus Animals



  1. I went and saw this circus last year in Valdosta,GA and ALL the animals were SO drugged it was ridiculous! Why in the world would you want to go see a bunch of abused drugged out animals being forced to do things they were NOT born to do. How dare you, you horrible people.