Ringling Bros. Charged with Abusing Elephants

As Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey

Circus began performing in the Washington, DC area,

several animal welfare organizations, including The Fund for

Animals, The Animal Welfare Institute, and The American

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) —

the country’s oldest animal welfare organization — are

warning the public about the brutality circus staff routinely

inflict on performing elephants. The groups charge that to

“train” and “control” its elephants, Ringling Bros. routinely

keeps the 6,000- to 10,000-pound animals in chains and

regularly beats them with bullhooks — clubs with sharp

metal hooks on the end. In support of these charges, the

organizations presented eye-witness sworn accounts by

former Ringling Bros. employees, a recent Department of

Agriculture report that Ringling Bros. causes “physical harm”

to its baby elephants, and recent video footage of Ringling

Bros. employees hitting elephants.

“People go to the circus because they love animals,”

according to Nancy Blaney, director of government affairs

for The ASPCA, “not realizing that they are unwittingly

perpetuating the abuse this circus inflicts on elephants. As

long as people continue to buy tickets, Ringling will continue

to torment elephants.”

The groups, joined by a former Ringling Bros. elephant

worker, have sued Ringling Bros. under the Endangered

Species Act, which prohibits the “harming” of any animal

that is listed as “endangered.” Ringling Bros. uses

endangered Asian elephants in its circus. The case is

pending in federal district court in Washington, DC.

The reports of routine chaining and beatings are based on

several recent eye-witness accounts by Ringling Bros.

employees who recently left the circus and who have

submitted sworn testimony to the U.S. Department of

Agriculture that elephants are routinely kept in chains for as

long as 20 hours a day, and that, from the time they are

babies, they are beaten and repeatedly hit and prodded with

sharp bullhooks in order to “break” them and make them

perform “tricks” in the circus.

The organizations also point to a recent USDA investigation

which found that Ringling Bros. inflicted “large visible lesions”

on baby elephants at its “Conservation Center” in Florida,

when it forcibly separated the less than two-year-old babies

from their mothers during what Ringling Bros. employees

referred to as the “routine” separation process. After

consulting an independent panel of elephant experts, in May

1999 the USDA informed Feld Entertainment, Ringling’s

parent company, that this treatment of the babies caused

them “trauma and physical harm,” and was completely

“unnecessary.” In the wild, baby elephants learn important

social and survival skills from their mothers and are not

weaned until they are about four years old. Females stay

with their mothers and the rest of their social units for their

entire lives.

“All of this treatment violates the law,” said Katherine

Meyer, attorney with Meyer & Glitzenstein, who is handling

the case against Ringling Bros. “Both the Endangered

Species Act and the Animal Welfare Act prohibit the abuse

of these magnificent animals. It’s time to put an end to this

archaic practice.”

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