PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it’s now looking into an incident involving a camel being spooked at a Shrine Circus performance this weekend at PPG Paints Arena, and an animal rights group is calling on the circus to stop using all animals in its shows.
On Sunday, six children and an adult were hurt during the incident. The injuries were mostly minor, but one person suffered a broken arm.
George Davis Jr., from Sarver, was right nearby when camel began bucking.
“I consider myself well prepared for just about anything, but a camel stampede wasn’t on my short list of things I have a contingency plan for,” he said.
Shrine Circus spokesperson Paul Leavy says surveillance cameras at PPG Paints Arena, which could provide clues as to what spooked the camel, were covered by curtains.
Another camera only has still images too infrequent to help.
However, several eyewitnesses say they saw a child throw a small shovel at the camel.
Mayor Bill Peduto said Monday, “Anytime you’re dealing with exotic animals, whether they’re trained or untrained, there’s always a level of question.”
In December, Pittsburgh City Council passed a law that bans “bullhooks” and other sharp instruments used to control the animals.
The Shrine Circus said it’s impossible to have animals without those tools on hand, so the circus got a judge to stay the law until he considers its legality. The circus says there’s no connection to the camel incident, but PETA says it’s an example of why animal acts should be dropped from the show.
Mayor Peduto hopes the tradition can continue under the new rule.
However, PETA claims this isn’t the first time an animal has injured someone at a Shrine Circus.
“This is far from the first time an animal has hurt someone at a Shrine circus, and it won’t be the last as long as camels, elephants, and tigers are still being bullied into performing,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA is calling on Shriners International to protect children and animals by giving audiences thrilling circus shows that star talented human performers, not abused animals.”
On Monday, the group sent a letter to Shriners International.
It reads in part:
“A recent expert report detailed the neglect, abuse, and coercion of animals at Shrine circuses, including trainers whipping and jabbing tigers with prods, striking an elephant in the jaw, and forcing distressed, muzzled bears to do handstands. Last year, eyewitness video footage showed a bear urinating in apparent distress when being pulled by a leash and forced to walk on his or her front legs during a Tangier Shrine Circus performance.
“Many Shriners are moving away from this cruelty. The Missoula Shrine Circus dropped wild-animal acts, Shrine circuses in Canada haven’t used wild animals in years, the Orillia Shrine Club abandoned its longtime circus and instead held an Oktoberfest fundraiser, and the Jerusalem Shriners recently announced their decision never again to host an animal circus.
“Shriners International—an organization devoted to doing good—should dissociate itself from the egregious cruelty inherent in using animals for entertainment and the potential harm that it can do to children, who the Shriners very adeptly work to help in other ways. This is a unique opportunity to give audiences what they really want—spectacular human talent that doesn’t compromise animal or child welfare—while promoting benevolence and sharing the Shriners’ mission.”
PETA also noted that many Shriners have already moved away from hosting wild-animal acts, including the Missoula Shrine Circus, the Jerusalem Shriners, and Shrine circuses in Canada.