Skip to content

Baby Barack has Deadly Virus

Baby Elephant Used by Ringling Infected With Deadly Virus

Baby Barack

PETA has confirmed that Barack, a baby elephant with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, is suffering from a deadly herpes virus that Ringling may have been able to prevent. Barack was not even a year old when Ringling moved him to the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa in December 2009. But only one month later, after performing in Orlando and Jacksonville, Barack was taken off the road because he contracted the deadly endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV).

Stress is believed to be a factor in the development of EEHV infection because it can weaken the immune system, making an elephant susceptible to infectious diseases. If this is the case, Ringling’s greed is likely the culprit. The circus has subjected this young elephant to the stress of transport and performances, in which he was surrounded by bullhook-toting trainers as he was trotted around the ring and forced to climb a pedestal.

Death from the herpes virus usually occurs within seven days after an acute onset of symptoms, which include lethargy, swelling of the head and limbs, and a blue discoloration of the tongue. This frightening disease causes massive internal hemorrhaging, typically affects elephants under 10 years of age, and has an 85 percent mortality rate. It’s responsible for more than half of all juvenile elephant deaths in North American facilities, and it’s possible that Ringling could have prevented baby Barack from catching this horrible virus.

If Barack survives, he doesn’t have much to look forward to. When he’s around 18 months old, he will likely be pulled away from his mother and subjected to violent training sessions that will involve being tied up with ropes, slammed to the ground, electrically shocked, and gouged with bullhooks in order to learn circus “tricks.”

Please help Barack by asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate and, if appropriate,
pursue charges against Ringling for putting this baby elephant in harm’s way and demanding that the agency ensure that he is receiving adequate veterinary care.

Please send polite comments to:

Chester A. Gipson, D.V.M.
Deputy Administrator
4700 River Rd., Unit 97
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234
301-734-4993 (fax)


Ringling Bros.’ baby circus elephant, Barack, fighting deadly virus

Elephant calf named Barack pulled from circus lineup

Eloísa Ruano González

Orlando Sentinel

7:33 PM EST, February 5, 2010

The first Asian elephant born as a result of artificial insemination at a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus facility has been pulled from the circus lineup after he became infected with a potentially deadly herpes virus.

The 1-year-old calf, Barack, is being treated for elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a disease that has killed several Asian elephants in zoos across the continent in the past three decades. He and his mother were taken off the traveling unit two weeks ago and sent to Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, about 40 miles southwest of Orlando. The duo had made a brief appearance at the Orlando Amway Arena last month during the circus’ “Greatest Show on Earth.”

Barack is expected to survive, said veterinarian Dennis Schmitt, chairman of veterinary services and director of research for Ringling. The calf, named for the president because he was born on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, did not show most symptoms, which include a bruised tongue, lethargy, and swollen head and neck. Trainers noticed, however, he had not been as active as usual.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that he’ll continue to progress,” Schmitt said.

Little is known about the elephant herpes virus. Since 1977, at least 30 acute cases have been reported in North America, and most of them involved elephants younger than 7 years old, according to researchers at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington. About a third of those elephants survived after receiving the antiviral drug famciclovir, which is used to treat the virus in humans. However, EEVH only affects elephants and has not been linked to humans.

Barack is the second elephant to have contracted the virus at a Ringling facility. The calf’s father, Doc, had been diagnosed with it several years ago and survived, circus officials said. The two cases are not related.

During his first appearances to the public a few weeks ago, Barack walked out into the ring with his mother close behind. The youngest elephant to perform for Ringling, Barack stepped up on a pedestal and saluted the audience by lifting his trunk. The elephant is only the fourth calf in the country to be conceived and born through artificial insemination.

“He also is a rare second generation, since both his parents were born into the program at the Ringling Bros. [conservation center],” said Amy McWethy, a spokeswoman for Ringling’s parent company, Feld Entertainment.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a complaint this week with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after the group was alerted about Barack’s contracting the virus. It’s the second complaint PETA has filed against Ringling in the past two months. In the previous complaint, PETA said that trainers tortured young elephants using “barbaric” tools such as bull hooks and electrical-shock devices to teach them circus tricks.

USDA officials inspected the facility after the first complaint and did not find any violations, agency spokesman Dave Sacks said. The two complaints are unrelated.

In the most recent complaint, Debbie Leahy, a director for PETA, said the baby elephant had been “stressed” after trainers with bull hooks surrounded him during a circus performance. She said the stress weakened Barack’s immune system and made him vulnerable to the virus.

“It [the virus] has hit a number of zoos very hard. … It’s extremely serious,” Leahy told an Orlando Sentinel reporter, adding: “It’s pretty deadly and kills them quickly.”

Researchers, however, don’t know how the disease spreads and whether stress is related to the herpes virus. They also don’t know why some elephants die and others survive, Schmitt said.

Barack is active and gaining a healthy 2 to 4 pounds a day, McWethy said. He could return to the ring in two or three months. She said it’s “a remarkable testament” that Ringling staff were able to quickly diagnose and treat him.

“The fact that Barack is responding well is a celebration for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey,” she said.

Eloísa Ruano González can be reached at or 407-650-6673.

Copyright © 2010, Orlando Sentinel


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: