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Lima, zebra that escaped Ringling Bros. circus in Atlanta, is euthanized

March 19, 2010 |  6:10 pm

Zebra

The escaped circus zebra that led his trainers and Atlanta police on a 40-minute chase and impeded traffic before finally being recaptured last month has been euthanized as a result of injuries he sustained during the incident.

Lima, a 12-year-old male who traveled with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, suffered cuts on his hooves during his dash through Atlanta, Ringling spokesperson Crystal Drake said shortly after he was caught. But his injuries weren't initially thought to be severe, according to statements Drake made to reporters. She described Lima as being "in good shape," even speculating that he would probably appear again in the circus with no interruption to his performing schedule.

Although reports from Atlanta didn't immediately classify Lima's injuries as life-threatening, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals quickly registered its outrage, calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove zebras from Ringling's traveling shows in light of Lima's incident as well as previous incidents in which multiple zebras escaped from the circus. PETA also noted a February incident in which one of Ringling's elephants, apparently startled backstage at a circus show in South Carolina, crashed through a prop door and into the performance area.

But despite early reports suggesting Lima's injuries were minor, he was quickly sent for treatment to a veterinary hospital at the University of Georgia. Even after he was taken to the university veterinary center, Drake told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the zebra was "fine."

For several weeks, Ringling veterinarians, working in conjunction with the university's veterinary staff, "performed extensive examinations and tried numerous medical treatments to repair damage to the zebra's hooves," according to a statement from the circus.

The treatments, however, proved unsuccessful, and the decision was made to euthanize the zebra.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Drake said the circus had decided to put Lima to sleep based on its doubts that he would be able to live a comfortable life after his injury. Concerns over his future as a performing animal had nothing to do with the decision to euthanize him, she said.

Following Ringling's announcement about Lima's death, PETA blogger Logan Scherer wrote that the group is "hoping that the tragedy of Lima's death moves officials to end the exploitation of all zebras in circuses.

"While we mourn Lima's traumatic and painful ordeal," Scherer's blog post continues, "we are thankful that he will no longer be forced to endure a life of constant confinement, in fear of being beaten to perform unnatural tricks." 

PETA has long been a vocal opponent of Ringling, arguing that the company abuses the animals in its care. Just last month, it filed a complaint with the USDA over reports that the circus' baby elephant, Barack, had contracted a disease called elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus. The disease has been known to kill elephants, although Barack -- so named because he was born around the time of President Obama's inauguration -- is expected to survive. PETA's complaint suggests that Barack's immune system was compromised due to stress brought about by his treatment at the circus, making him vulnerable to disease.

PETA also maintains a website, RinglingBeatsAnimals.com, through which it airs its grievances against the circus.

A lawsuit brought against Ringling by a former employee and a coalition of animal protection groups went to trial in 2009. At trial, the plaintiffs argued that the circus' treatment of elephants amounted to a violation of the Endangered Species Act's ban on "harming," "harassing" or "wounding" an endangered animal.

Ringling maintained that its treatment of its performing elephants is exemplary and that trainers' use of bullhooks, an especially contentious issue among animal rights activists, is necessary to keep the animals under control and spectators safe.

In December, a federal judge ruled in favor of the circus.

According to Ringling's statement about Lima's death, the company immediately reviewed the circumstances surrounding the zebra's escape in Atlanta and has worked with the USDA to review its policies.

"Corrections to procedures were promptly implemented by Ringling Bros.," the statement continues, and "management has evaluated and will continue to review Company policies and procedures to ensure that its animals remain safe and secure."

-- Lindsay Barnett

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Photos: Workers try to contain the zebra. Credit: Ben Gray / Associated Press

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