Emaciated elephant taken from Florida owner

Asian elephant Ned was confiscated from circus trainer Lance Ramos for Ramos’ failure to comply with the Animal Welfare Act. Ned has been taken to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

The Elephant Sanctuary

Asian elephant Ned was confiscated from circus trainer Lance Ramos for Ramos’ failure to comply with the Animal Welfare Act. Ned has been taken to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

He weighs a ton less than he should weigh.

His cheeks are gaunt. His shoulder blades, sternum, hips and spine protrude from his leathery 9-foot-6 frame.

But 21-year-old Ned, a captive-born Asian elephant from Tampa, wobbled slowly out of a trailer Sunday into a new phase of his life.

No more circuses. No more trainers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Saturday whisked him away from Balm owner Lance Ramos, convinced the trainer had violated the federal Animal Welfare Act as Ned's owner.

More than 700 miles away at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, founder and director Carol Buckley made plans to nurse 7,500-pound Ned back to health.

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the healthiest, Buckley said, Ned's body mass is a 2.

"He's really just a bag of bones," she said.

Attempts to reach Ramos for comment were unsuccessful.

This is not the first time Ramos, also known as Lancelot Kollman, has had run-ins with the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

In 2000, the federal agency charged him with violating the Animal Welfare Act after an 18-year-old female elephant broke free from a chain and killed Ramos' sister, Teresa Ramos-Caballero. The elephant died soon after of unknown reasons.

Over the course of Ramos' career, which included training animals for the Oscarian Brothers Circus, he was also cited by the USDA for failing to provide veterinary care to injured animals, causing trauma and harm to a jaguar and tolerating unsanitary conditions.

USDA spokeswoman Jessica Milteer said Ramos is appealing a court ruling in a case brought by the USDA concerning his treatment of two bigs cats.

RaeLeann Smith, a circus and government affairs specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, lauded the USDA for confiscating Ned.

But she also wrote a letter urging the agency to pursue criminal charges.

Ramos has been fined thousands of dollars before. But, Smith said, he continues to offend.

"We've long been concerned with his abysmal care of animals," Smith said.

Milteer said the agency is only authorized to impose civil penalties.

But Smith pointed to a section of federal law that appears to allow criminal penalties of up to a year in prison, or a fine of not more than $2,500, or both.

"These animal abusers get a slap on the wrist and they're allowed to continue," Smith said. "They shouldn't stop there."

Back at the elephant refuge in Tennessee, Buckley said Ned seems to be making slow progress.

He is easily frightened and seems nervous to wander more than 200 feet from the barn, she said. At first, he seemed unfamiliar with fruits and vegetables. By Monday, he was eating pumpkins, broccoli, corn — "everything imaginable," she said.

A healthy elephant diet includes grass, grain, and vegetation, sanctuary spokeswoman Kate Elliot said.

Buckley said she suspects Ned had little more than hay for his diet — the least nutritious food commonly available to elephants.

Born Oct. 10, 1987, at Busch Gardens, Ned was the offspring of two elephants captured in Southeast Asia. At age 2, he was sold to a circus trainer and performed in the Big Apple Circus. When elephants were cut from the circus lineup, Ned wound up in Ramos' care. He recently performed in the Royal Hanneford traveling circus, Elliot said.

But Buckley said all of that is behind Ned now. If things go as planned, he will grow stronger and eventually be placed in a permanent home.

"He has the potential," Buckley said, "to live to be 70."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

>>Fast facts

Read Ned's diary

Send Ned a message, monitor his progress, see more photos or donate toward his care at the Elephant Sanctuary at Ned's Web page. You can also mail donations to the Elephant Sanctuary, 804 Darbytown Road, Hohenwald, TN 38462; or call (931) 796-6500.

Emaciated elephant taken from Florida owner 11/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 17, 2008 2:05pm]

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