A traveling circus seems like the perfect opportunity for you and your family to get an up-close look at wild animals that you would never experience otherwise. After all, getting to see elephants without even having to leave your town sounds like something you just can’t simply pass up! Well, before you pack up the kids and dart off to see the animals, you might want to consider a few things beforehand.

Animals in the circus are usually wild animals that have been taken from their natural environment, usually at a very young age, and in place of the hundreds of miles of free land they might normally enjoy, they’re confined to small cages and continuously transported across the U.S. The tricks these animals perform don’t resemble any natural behavior they would display in the wild, and chances are they were taught to do them by way of pain, fear and starvation. Yeah, we’re guessing you’ve already started to unpack the family car.


While 99.9 percent of circuses operate within these cruel parameters, there is one that takes the cake for being just, simply the worst: Liebel Family Circus.

A History of Abuse

During it’s run on the circus circuit, the Liebel Family Circus has operated under a series of different names, including: Liebeling Brothers Circus, The Great American Family Circus and Florida State Family Circus. You might think that a circus would stick to a single title, in the hopes to build a brand recognition and expand their fame, but this particular circus has good reason to want a number of different aliases.

The founder of the Liebel Family Circus, Hugo Tomi Liebel, came to the U.S. in the 1970s. Liebel claims that his family’s legacy in the circus business dates all the back to the 16th-century. Together with his wife, Franciszka and their four children, Mariska, Tomi Jr., Roman and Cathalina the family runs the circus which travels to over 30 states a year. Liebel owns two primates and an elephant who he exhibits, mainly at county fairs.

The Liebel’s history with animal welfare violations dates all the way back to March of 1993. The first incident that Liebels were cited for by the USDA involved the circus’ primates who were being kept in improper cages and deprived of any form of enrichment activity. After receiving this warning, Liebel was cited again shortly there after in August for “inadequate feeding of primates.”


From here, the violations and citations continued to wrack up for the Liebels. Citations including improper documentation of itinerary, no record of vaccinations for animals, filthy conditions, contamination of food and water with animal waste and the inability to handle animals in a manner that would be safe to the public, all make the list.

For a family who’s experience with the circus dates back to the 16th-century, it hardly seems that they have any knowledge of how to properly run or maintain a circus venture. To date, Leibel Family Circus has been cited 200 times for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. The treatment of the circus’ elephant, Nosey, has gained much negative attention for the circus.

In 2013, Hugo Tomi (AKA Tommy Liebel, Hugo Blum or Hugo Bloom) Liebel reached a settlement agreement with the USDA arising from 33 formal charges filed against the circus for violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 2011 (many of which were associated with Nosey the elephant). Liebel was ultimately assessed a civil penalty of $7,500 and ordered to stop violating the AWA.

Clearly, Liebel has seen this order more as a suggestion than anything and continues to tour the circus act and abuse Nosey the Elephant.


Exposed: Hugo Liebel

The Sad Life of Nosey the Elephant

Nosey is the only elephant kept by the Liebel Family Circus, which on its own makes for a miserable existence for an elephant. Nosey was captured from the wild in Zimbabwe when she was only two years old and was purchased by Liebel in 1988. Liebel claims that he selflessly took Nosey in after her family was killed by poachers.

To train and manage Nosey throughout the years, Liebel has used electric prods, bull hooks, shovels and even sledgehammers. There have been numerous occasions where circus attendees have witnessed Nosey being beaten. Like Liebel and the circus itself, Nosey travels under aliases (Tiny and Dumbo) to try and evade animal rights activists. Liebel currently has a license that allows him to exhibit Nosey and give the public rides on her back. 

According to Philip K. Ensley, D.V.M., Dipl. ACZM, Nosey suffers from advanced arthritis, degenerative joint disease and impaired limb function. With this sort of condition, Nosey should not be permitted to give rides to visitors, however, Liebel allows this continue. Lameness is the number one cause of fatalities for elephants. Given their large size and weight, if an elephant were to collapse there is real danger of their internal organs being crushed or damaged

Nosey also suffers from a skin condition that has not been treated by a veterinarian. In response to PETA and other animal activists concerns over the safety and health of Nosey, Liebel has stated, “I have legal certificates, I’ve had federal inspections, all good.”


The last inspection carried out  by a USDA veterinarian in March 2014 discovered that Nosey has a toe nail that is so ingrown that it cuts back into her foot. Adding further pain to Nosey’s already exasperated foot conditions, it hardly seems that Liebel’s quality of care for Nosey is “all good.”

Exposed: Hugo Liebel


What You Can and MUST Do to End the Suffering

After 200 violations of the Animal Welfare Act, it would seem that the end to Hugo Tomi Liebel’s circus days are long overdue, but sadly, this day has not yet come. Numerous appeals have been made to Liebel and the USDA to retire Nosey and send her to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. The sanctuary has offered to underwrite the costs of transporting Nosey, but as long as Liebel legally owns her, she is subjected to his will.

The reality is, as long as Nosey can help make a profit for Liebel, he will continue to exhibit her – regardless of the severity of her condition. The best action you can take to help this poor elephant is to spread the word about Hugo Tomy Liebel and the Liebel Family Circus/Liebeling Brothers Circus/The Great American Family Circus/Florida State Family Circus. Liebel thinks that he can skirt the negative press of animal activists by changing his own name, the name of Nosey and the title of his circus, but we know better than to be fooled by this.

Boycott all circuses that operate under any of these names and look out for local fairs or exhibitions that might operate under another umbrella organization but features acts from one of the Liebel aliases. Nosey’s future depends on our action, so it is our duty to her to ensure that no one else unknowingly contributes to her suffering.

PETA has also launched and appeal to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service to revoke Liebel’s permit. You show your support of this action by signing this petition, here.

Share this post and let the world know the truth about Hugo Tomi Liebel and Nosey! When you know truth, it is your duty to spread it.

Lead image source: PETA