After nearly a decade, a federal judge has ruled in favor of Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus over claims of abuse to circus elephants.
The lawsuit was brought by the ASPCA, Born Free USA (Animal Protection Institute), Animal Welfare Institute, Fund for Animals along with former Ringling elephant trainer Tom Rider and accused the circus of chaining and confining elephants, along with using bullhooks in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
US District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled in favor of Ringling’s owner, Feld Entertainment Inc., despite there being no shortage of evidence presented in the case, on the grounds that Rider and the animal protection groups involved lacked legal standing to bring a lawsuit to federal court over the issue.
IDA and PETA reported the following as some of the evidence was presented at trial:
- Elephants being routinely hit with bullhooks.
- Elephants being regularly chained in box cars for more than 26 hours at a time and for as long as 100 hours without a break while traveling across the country for 11 months of the year, and for as much as 22 hours each day in Ringling’s breeding center.
- Baby elephants being forcibly separated from their mothers for training at age two or younger.
- Elephants exhibiting lameness, which was exacerbated by grueling performances, and a 2-year-old elephant suffered from foot abscesses and lameness.
- Water being withheld from elephants so that trainers could minimize urination, and the water that was provided was sometimes contaminated with soap or bleach.
Even CEO Kenneth Feld swore under oath that elephants are routinely treated in the manner that the defendants claimed.
Ringling and Feld are pleased with the outcome, claiming that they’re working to protect elephants. Trainers also claim that bullhooks, or ‘guides’ as they like to call them, are humane and have been used to train elephants for decades. They can call it a magical fairy wand if they want, but it’s still a stick with a steel hook on the end used explicitly to cause pain to sensitive and intelligent animals for the sole purpose of getting them to perform ridiculous tricks for circus goers.
While the outcome of the case is sad and disappointing, it is still the first case ever brought under the Endangered Species Act to protect an endangered species in captivity, and is yet another step in bringing the plight of circus animals to the public’s attention.
Every person who decides not to participate in this type of cruelty by avoiding the circus, or by telling others about the abuse circus animals live through, is bringing this cruelty one step close to the end.