Tuesday, April 11, 2006

ASPCA Leads in a Lawsuit against Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus and Feld Entertainment: Could Mean the End for Elephants in Circuses

A very good article about a very important lawsuit. If this suit follows through, it would mean big changes for abusive animal circuses such as Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Essentially, elephants would be recognized as animals with specific needs that cannot be met in an organization that forces them to act via pain and punishment and has them living in unnatural, artificial, black top environments.

For proof on what really goes on behind the scenes in circuses, visit http://www.circuses.com/

I’ve pulled a few quotes from the article below that sum up the suit.

“The ASPCA is one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus and Feld Entertainment, the company that owns the giant circus.

Using the federal Endangered Species Act, the plaintiffs argue that the way elephants are trained and housed by Ringling Bros. violates the law.

"We allege that the way they train their elephants wounds them," said Kimberly Ockene, one of the attorneys in the case, which is in the discovery phase in federal court in the District of Columbia.

She said the use of a metal bull hook to train the elephants and the practice of separating baby elephants from their mothers too quickly causes the animals physical, emotional and psychological suffering.

Ockene said the suit, begun in June 2004, likely will go to trial sometime next year.

In the suit, a former Ringling Bros. employee, Tom Rider, said that during his years caring for elephants with the circus he witnessed many acts that he considered cruel.

Rider, who also is a plaintiff in the suit, said he saw routine beating of elephants among other acts during his nearly two years with the circus.

"While working for Ringling Bros., Mr. Rider saw several of the other elephant handlers and `trainers' routinely beat the elephants, including the baby elephants, and he saw them routinely hit and wound the elephants with sharp bull hooks," the lawsuit states.

The suit also says that such actions were carried out throughout the country as the circus moved around.”

Article:

Lawsuit claims big top is elephants' nightmare

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-060
4100150apr10,1,7430800.story?coll=chi-news-hed

By Vincent J. Schodolski
Tribune national correspondent
Published April 10, 2006

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- There was the big top, a giant blue tent. There were acrobats, a trapeze and even a couple of clowns. There were hot dogs and popcorn and lots of overpriced souvenirs.

But there were no animals, and that kind of spectacle may be coming to your neighborhood if animal-rights activists and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have their way.

Cirque du Soleil is world-famous for its innovative approach to circus performance, and many conventional circuses may start looking more like Canada-based Cirque as communities across the U.S. ban, or seek to ban, circuses with exotic animal acts--especially those involving elephants.

About 15 U.S. cities have ordinances banning circus acts that involve animals, and a measure is pending in the Chicago City Council to require that each elephant within city limits have at least 10 acres of personal space.

While activists express concern about all exotic animals in circuses, there is special worry about elephants. The animals often spend as many as 22 hours a day tethered, usually with chains on their ankles, said Colleen Kinzley, curator of the zoo in Oakland, who has worked extensively with elephants.

In the wild they roam and forage for as many as 18 hours a day, experts say.

The ASPCA is one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus and Feld Entertainment, the company that owns the giant circus.

Using the federal Endangered Species Act, the plaintiffs argue that the way elephants are trained and housed by Ringling Bros. violates the law.

"We allege that the way they train their elephants wounds them," said Kimberly Ockene, one of the attorneys in the case, which is in the discovery phase in federal court in the District of Columbia.

She said the use of a metal bull hook to train the elephants and the practice of separating baby elephants from their mothers too quickly causes the animals physical, emotional and psychological suffering.

Ockene said the suit, begun in June 2004, likely will go to trial sometime next year.

Ringling Bros. said their elephants live a pampered existence.

"Our animals are amongst the best cared for anywhere," said Thomas Albert, vice president for government relations and animal policy with Ringling Bros. "Sadly, our elephants are better cared for than many children in this country."

Under the Animal Welfare Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with guaranteeing the welfare of exotic animals in zoos and circuses.

Albert said the USDA regularly inspects Ringling Bros. facilities and that the things the ASPCA and the other plaintiffs allege would make it impossible for the circus to continue with elephant acts.

"They are alleging that anytime we do anything with an elephant we are violating the Endangered Species Act," he said.

At any given time, Ringling Bros. has about 54 elephants. Three of the traveling circuses have nine or 10 elephants on the road with each of them. A smaller one-ring circus travels with just two, he said.

`Leaders in animal care'

Ringling Bros. does a great deal to benefit elephants and other exotic animals in its possession, Albert said.

"We have been the leaders in animal care for 136 years," he said. The circus' breeding program, Albert said, was responsible for 19 elephant births in the last 14 years, accounting for 45 percent of Asian elephant births in the United States.

The elephants not on the road are kept at a Florida facility where they rest and are involved in breeding operations.

In the suit, a former Ringling Bros. employee, Tom Rider, said that during his years caring for elephants with the circus he witnessed many acts that he considered cruel.

Rider, who also is a plaintiff in the suit, said he saw routine beating of elephants among other acts during his nearly two years with the circus.

"While working for Ringling Bros., Mr. Rider saw several of the other elephant handlers and `trainers' routinely beat the elephants, including the baby elephants, and he saw them routinely hit and wound the elephants with sharp bull hooks," the lawsuit states.

The suit also says that such actions were carried out throughout the country as the circus moved around.

Dan Stockdale, a consultant and exotic animal trainer who also has worked with Ringling Bros., said he had a different experience.

"I have found almost all of the facilities I have visited to be extraordinarily professional and well-managed operations," Stockdale said. "I have had the privilege of being behind the scenes with several organizations and have seen surprisingly clean conditions, excellent medical care and very creative ideas for daily enrichment."

Oakland Zoo curator Kinzley said circus conditions can cause problems for the animals.

"The biggest issue facing elephants in circuses is that they spend a lot of time contained and with ankle chains," she said.

She said such confinement could cause the elephants to gain excessive weight and engage in "swaying" where they move their bodies from side to side. "When they are in chains, this is the only motion they can do," Kinzley said.

Natural behavior suppressed

She said confinement also prohibits natural elephant behavior such as bathing and mud wallowing.

Anyes Van Volkenburgh, a veterinarian in Malibu, Calif., said it is unnatural for exotic animals to live in a circus environment.

"Circus animals are deprived of living their lives according to their nature," she said. "Their instincts are not honored, their natural needs are ignored. As a result their mental and emotional health suffers as signified by stereotypical behaviors like pacing."

Van Volkenburgh said that such behaviors weaken and suppress the animals' immune systems and make them more susceptible to disease.

Cirque du Soleil is far from the only non-animal, themed circus performing in the United States. Circuses.com, a Web site maintained by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, lists 25 animal-free circuses.

Among them are: Bindlestiff Family Cirkus--vaudeville-style acts; Circus Luminous--elaborate costumes and a turn-of-the-century look; Cloud Seeding Circus--works with schools and museums; Flying Fruit Fly Circus--circus, dance, theater and live percussion; and New Pickle Circus--choreographed adventure of acrobatics, aerial work, dance and clowning.

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