Today is the 20th anniversary of an incident in Palm Bay, Florida that made national headlines and was one of several similar incidents that motivated a generation of animal advocates to speak up against the cruelty of traveling circuses.
On February 1, 1992, a few minutes before a Saturday afternoon performance of the Great American Circus, a 27-year-old Asian elephant named “Janet” (aka Kelly) was giving rides when she suddenly bolted with an adult and several children on her back. Unable to stop the elephant as she rampaged through the circus grounds, police officers had no choice but to shoot the elephant. Janet was shot dozens of times before she finally died. Twelve spectators and a police officer were treated for minor injuries. Amateur video of the rampage was broadcast nationally.
Following the incident, elephant trainer Tim Frisco was charged by state wildlife officials with maintaining wildlife in an unsafe manner. (Frisco, who was later acquitted of two misdemeanor charges, is still handling circus elephants.) One of the police officers on the scene, Blayne Doyle, said later: “I think these elephants are trying to tell us that zoos and circuses are not what God created them for. But we have not been listening.” Janet was buried at a Brevard County landfill.