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How elephants Beulah and Karen died

By Courtney Fern

We at the Nonhuman Rights Project are sickened to have learned that our elephant client Beulah died as a result of blood poisoning caused by a uterine infection the Commerford Zoo was aware she had when they forced her to travel in a trailer from Connecticut to Massachusetts to be exhibited for their financial gain at the Big E Fair.

Blood poisoning, also known as septicemia, causes intense suffering, no matter your species. Beulah’s final hours—documented in photos of her lying on her side in a parking lot the day she died—marked a horrific end to an equally horrific life.

This information was shared with us by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), whose office contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with specific, urgent questions regarding the agency’s regulation of the Commerford Zoo under the Animal Welfare Act. The USDA’s answers highlight the agency’s total lack of common sense in its so-called oversight of animal exhibitors as well as the ineffectiveness of animal welfare laws in protecting elephants from needless suffering and death.

For example, in response to the question of whether Beulah’s death could have been prevented, the agency wrote that it believed that “appropriate veterinary care and intervention was administered” to Beulah and that Commerford Zoo personnel “followed the attending veterinarian’s instructions.”

What the veterinarian’s instructions were we do not know and might never know. Regardless, it is unconscionable to transport a sick, elderly elephant to stand for hours every day for two weeks in a parking lot at a fair. That the USDA considers this an acceptable way to treat elephants is also unconscionable, if unsurprising, and underscores the urgent need for recognition of elephant rights.

We have also learned that our elephant client Karen died of kidney disease at 38 years old. Karen had been receiving what the USDA considers “appropriate care” at the time of her death. While much remains unknown about how long Karen had been sick, or if she was suffering from other ailments when she died, we know she died at a much earlier age than elephants typically do. We also know “appropriate care” is meaningless if you remain a prisoner subjected to forced labor.

We’d like to extend our deepest thanks to Senator Blumenthal—a longtime champion for animal protection and a co-sponsor of the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act—for his help in getting answers about Beulah and Karen’s deaths and the USDA’s oversight of the Commerford Zoo.

It is in large part because of elephants’ rightlessness that information about their well-being is so difficult to obtain and so often fails to bring about any positive change in the lives of imprisoned elephants.

Both Beulah and Karen’s lives and deaths were tragedies. They were avoidable tragedies. The Commerford Zoo chose to deny Beulah and Karen the opportunity to heal, thrive, and regain their dignity in a sanctuary, claiming it was for the elephants’ own good while the USDA looked the other way. We’ll keep fighting in and out of court for Minnie, the sole surviving Commerford elephant, to not suffer the same fate.

To learn more our Connecticut elephant rights litigation, visit Beulah, Karen, and Minnie’s court case timeline. To learn how you can help, visit their grassroots advocacy campaign page. 

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