Ringling Brothers Circus Brings Acts of Cruelty to Town

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Monday, 15 March 2004

Use of "bullhooks" and other animal abuse cited in suit against Ringling Bros.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus is coming to town, and with it comes the circus's "dirty little secret" that it hits its elephants with razor sharp "bullhooks" and keeps the elephants chained for days on end, to keep the animals under control. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), The Fund for Animals, and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) have brought a lawsuit against Ringling under the Endangered Species Act for its mistreatment of the elephants an endangered species. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., rejected Ringling's arguments that the case should be thrown out, and the case is now going forward in the federal district court in Washington.

The ASPCA is urging New Yorkers to not patronize the circus, which is scheduled to begin performances at Madison Square Garden on March 18,2004. "Sadly, many parents and educators view the circus as an opportunity to teach children about wild animals," said Lisa Weisberg, ASPCA Senior Vice President, Government Affairs and Public Policy. "The conditions under which these highly social creatures perform and live in the circus are a stark contrast to how nature intended. Parents should question whether they want to teach their children that it is natural and appropriate for elephants to stand on their hind legs and perform on command solely for our entertainment."

The nation's largest animal welfare organizations collaborated on a report documenting the systematic abuse of the Asian elephants in Ringling's care. The report was based on hundreds of records obtained through litigation under the Freedom of Information Act. The records show that in case after case brought to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the last five years by animal welfare organizations, state humane agencies, former Ringling Bros. employees, and even USDA's own inspectors, the USDA chose to ignore crucial evidence showing a clear pattern of bullhook use. The Report also shows that the agency closed investigations prematurely and overrode its own inspectors' and investigators' determinations of violations of the law --allowing Ringling to insist to the public that there is no truth to any allegations that it abuses its elephants. Tracing nine different investigations over five years, the report reveals such incidents as:

  • Internal documents show that USDA investigators found that a trainer's use of a bullhook on a baby elephant named Benjamin "created behavioral stress and trauma which precipitated in the physical harm and ultimate death of the animal," yet the USDA memorandum closing the case omitted all references to this finding and instead stated that "suddenly, and without any signs of distress or struggle, Benjamin became unconscious and drowned." No enforcement action was taken by the USDA.
  • USDA determined that Ringling's use of chains and ropes to forcibly remove nursing elephants from their mothers at Ringling's "Center for Elephant Conservation" caused the animals "unnecessary trauma, behavioral stress, [and] physical harm," and "was not in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act," yet the agency quietly closed the investigation without taking any enforcement action.
  • The USDA has been extremely cooperative in helping Ringling keep the public from knowing that as many as eight elephants have tested positive for Tuberculosis and many more have been exposed to the disease. In one instance, although a USDA investigator originally cited Ringling for failing to provide any medical treatment for an elephant who had tested positive, a high level USDA official later "overrode" that citation when Ringling's attorneys complained.

The plaintiffs are being represented by the public interest law firm, Meyer & Glitzenstein.

For more information, or to contact American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, see their website at: www.aspca.org

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