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Elephant Beulah had painful infection when she died, USDA confirms

By Courtney Fern

We at the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) are appalled to have learned that at the time of Beulah’s death at the Big E fair in September she had a painful infection of the uterus called Pyometra, as confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

We don’t yet know what if any treatment Beulah received for this infection or if the proprietors of the Commerford Zoo even understood she was sick. We don’t yet know if this infection caused her death, and we don’t yet know the cause of Karen’s death in March (we expect to learn more from the USDA soon).

What we do know:

  •  The Commerford Zoo either failed to realize Beulah was sick and thus failed to treat her infection; or they knew she was sick and forced her to perform anyway.
  • An infection of the uterus is painful in any species, and elephants are especially good at hiding pain. By the time Beulah was seen lying listlessly on her side in a patch of grass in a parking lot at the Big E, her distress evident to any observer, the infection had likely been present for some time. She undoubtedly suffered greatly in the days before she died, even more so than on every other day of her life.
  • It’s possible to successfully treat Pyometra if it’s caught in its early stages—as it likely would have been had Beulah been a resident of an accredited sanctuary like the Performing Animal Welfare Society or The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Both sanctuaries have the resources and expertise to provide exemplary veterinary care to elephants (including routine blood work and the ultrasounds necessary for diagnosis) and view the elephants’ physical and emotional wellbeing as priority number one, every moment of every day.

The Commerford Zoo’s unrelenting prioritization of their own financial interests over Beulah’s wellbeing is unconscionable. Their actions make clear they cared about Beulah’s capacity to give rides to groups of children and adults and stand for hours at a time while people touched her and posed for photos, not what Beulah herself needed.

So many entities and people failed Beulah. The USDA failed her by not investigating the welfare complaints made by fairgoers who were rightfully alarmed by Beulah’s physical appearance in the days before her death. The Big E, under the leadership of CEO Gene Cassidy, failed her by allowing a clearly suffering elephant to be exhibited and dismissing fairgoers’ concerns (while also telling the media no one had expressed any concerns). The State of Connecticut failed her by allowing the Commerford Zoo to operate completely unchecked in the state despite it having been cited over 50 times for failing to meet the minimum standards of the Animal Welfare Act.

The Commerford Zoo denied Beulah and Karen the opportunity to heal and thrive in a sanctuary. They continue to deny Minnie, the sole surviving Commerford elephant, the same opportunity. We won’t let those who failed Beulah fail Minnie as well. While we advocate in the courts for her right to liberty and release to a sanctuary, we’ll continue to push state and federal agencies to no longer shirk their responsibilities and to finally investigate the mounting welfare concerns for Minnie. We’ll continue to fight until Minnie is safe in a sanctuary where she can live freely and with peace and dignity.

Visit our #FreeTheCommerfordElephants campaign page to learn how you can help.

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