Elephants Lose Court Battle

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.

Check here for a list of animal-free circuses. 

creative commons


Beth H.
beth Hall6 years ago

I can't believe this is happening to these poor creatures who have no voice or choice. I'm completely disgusted!

Rita Beilke
Rita Beilke6 years ago

That stupid judge

Donna R.
Donna R6 years ago

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan has no compassion for these abused elephants. He could care less what happens to them. He is a jerk! Someone has padded his pockets big time!

Brian Jenions6 years ago

The judge was obviously bribed, how could any person with intelligence come to a decision like that. Does the judge have animals of his own?? I hope he treats them better than the elephants

Lyn N.
Neela N6 years ago

It's pretty obvious that the judge was in cahoots with someone from Ringlings.

As long as our officals are blinded by either bribes or total indifference there will be no change for the better for the other inhabitants of this planet.

My heart breaks for them and one day these a**h***s will get what is coming to them.
Hopefully a small, smelly, cage and careless treatment (hopefully worse) for the rest of their miserable lives.

Ann Rosenberg
Ann rosenberg6 years ago

Keep campaigning and raise the awareness of all people. Write to the politicians and also the newspapers. Keep up the pressure and get more publicity. Bad publicity will force circuses to stop this cruel and barbaric practice. Its not enough to wring ones hands and lament. ACTION is what is needed - so email your representatives and demand they take action NOW!

Isabelle J.
Isabelle J6 years ago


Rose May
Rose May7 years ago

I would like to parade these judges around the rind chain them up see how they like it...oh ya and feed them when you feel like it..asses

Jacquie Lamont
Jacquie Lamont7 years ago

this is appalling! I never take my kids to the circus where there are animals I think the days of animals in circuses are coming to an end ..even though this decision was pathetic the majority of people are boycotting circuses with live animals , these animals should be retired to a wildlife park like we have in Australia

john l.
john l7 years ago

Judge Sullivan should be given a course in common sense using Ringlings Bros. 'humane' teaching methods.
I'll volunteer my time to teach the course.