Ringling Bros. Retires Circus Elephants

Seth Victor

As many of you may have already heard, Ringling Bros. is retiring elephants from its act and focusing on caring for elephants in a conservation center. Wayne Pacelles of HSUS described this move as a “Berlin Wall moment for animal protection,” and attributed the change to the evolving public opinion surrounding animal welfare, including the outcry that came on the heels of Blackfish and the treatment of orcas at Sea World. The termination of elephant performances has been long-sought by PETA.Photography-Elephant-Wallpapers

The media reaction, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a bit divided regarding Ringling Bros’s decision. An op-ed in the New York Post believes that the circus’s “craven capitulation to PETA will only embolden zealots to agitate for elimination of all circus animals — if not eventually to bestow upon all living creatures the same “inalienable rights” as humans,” and goes on to state that without exposure to animals via a circus, most people will not form a connection with the animals, and will thus not care to save them in the wild. The L.A. Times also notes that many people feel the elephants are an iconic part of the joy of the circus. Meanwhile op-eds in the New York Times range from echoing the Post to refuting the sentiments of the circus sympathizers. Continue reading

Circus Blowback

David Cassuto

The good folks at Ringling Bros. (aka Feld Entertainment Inc.) have taken some time out from bullhooking elephants to file a RICO suit against HSUS and the other plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit about elephant mistreatment and the Endangered Species Act.  The gravamen of the suit lies in the claim that the plaintiffs conspired to to pay Tom Rider, the chief complaining witness, to give false testimony.  Feld alleges bribery, obstruction of justice, fraud and money laundering.

Let us hope for a swift and attorney’s fees-filled end to this frivolous nonsense.

Why It’s Not About the Elephants

David Cassuto

Here now, a few words about the Ringling Brothers case.  The suit focused on the treatment of Asian elephants – an endangered species – by the circus.  Much credible evidence suggests that the elephants were mistreated, both by intent (using bullhooks to “train” them) and by the rigors of the circus life, a life which confined them for much of their lives, prevented them from socializing and from moving freely about and generally forced them to live counter to their instincts and nature.  These allegations and others seemed to place the circus in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), whose “Take” provision (Section 9) prohibits the “take” of any endangered species. 16 U.S.C. § 1538(a)(1)(B).

The term “take,” as used in the ESA, includes actions that “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” 16 U.S.C. § 1532(19). The Fish and Wildlife Service defines “harm” to include any act that “actually kills or injures wildlife,” including actions that “significantly impair[ ] essential behavioral patterns.” 50 C.F.R. § 17.3. “Harass” under the ESA means: an intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of injury to wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.  In sum, the Supreme Court has made clear that the ESA defines “take”  “in the broadest possible manner  to include every conceivable way in which a person can ‘take’ or attempt to ‘take’ any fish or wildlife.’ “ Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Cmtys. for a Greater Or.,515 U.S. 687, 704 (1995).

On the face of it, the allegations regarding the treatment of the elephants land squarely within the scope of behavior prohibited by the ESA.  This lawsuit marked the first time the ESA had been invoked to cover the treatment of performing elephants.  I do not here have time to summarize the merits and facts of the case; you can read more about it here and here and elsewhere.  I must focus on the procedural posture of the case since it ultimately proved dispositive.   Continue reading

Elephant “Training” Photos

David Cassuto

Paucity of posts this week, for which I apologize.  More soon.  In the meantime, if anybody was thinking that the allegations of the plaintiffs in the Ringling Brothers case were exaggerated, take a gander at these elephant “training” pics.  They are not from Ringling Brothers but they do reflect standard training practices.

From the Mailbag: An Action Alert

NYLHV E-News & Action Alerts


Ringling whistleblower Tom Rider speaking at press conferenceThe New York League of Humane Voters will hold a press conference outside of Madison Square Garden (33rd and Seventh Avenue) on March 24th at 12pm.  The press conference will happen less than twelve hours after Ringling Brothers parades wild animals through the streets of Manhattan prior to their annual stay at Madison Square Garden. NYLHV’s John Phillips will discuss the status of Intro. 389 with the media and share how New Yorkers can ensure this is the last year that wild animals appear in the circus in NYC. Please attend and show your support for this important legislation!On March 30th, join New York League of Humane Voters staff and friends at Counter Vegetarian Bistro (105 First Avenue) in the East Village for a night of drinks, food and fun to celebrate a week of educated activism for circus animals. The event at Counter is a great way to catch up on the progress of the bill and learn what you can do to help. Counter Bistro has generously agreed to donate 20% of the evening’s sales to NYLHV. Come early for drinks and stay for dinner.

NYLHV needs your support to get this important bill passed and end the use of elephants and other wild animals in New York City circuses.


Uncoupling Circuses and Cruelty

If you follow the news and care about such things, then you know that the long-awaited circus trial has begun.  In brief, Ringling Bros. circus must defend against charges that its use and (mis)treatment of exotic animals in its care violates the Endangered Species Act.  Plaintiffs include the ASPCA, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Fund for Animals.  Among the acts alleged to violate the law include using of bullhooks to “train” elephants to perform stunts that have absolutely nothing to do with their typical behavior, chaining them continuously when they are not performing, depriving them of natural habitat and adequate exercise, and more.  Some of the activities that the circus argues constitute necessary training or discipline seem just plain vicious. A verdict against the circus would be a huge legal victory, with significant changes in the way animals are used in travelling entertainment shows almost certain to follow.  Read more about the trial and accompanying issues here, here, here and lots of other places as well.

I have not blogged extensively about the trial in part because it is so well-covered elsewhere.  However, the issue of circus animal treatment has been around for a long time and it would be nice if the media’s gaze could expand to include some of the anti-cruelty efforts going on at the local and grass-roots levels.  For example, last week, I met with the Committee to Ban Wild & Exotic Animal Acts – a group comprised of people in the Westchester community lobbying for legislation that would bar businesses using wild and exotic animals in their performances from county facilities.  This group and others like it, both in Westchester and elsewhere, have had some significant legislative successes (including ordinances in the towns of Greenburgh, NY, Stamford CT, and Quincy, MA).

People working at the local level often face hostility and/or indifference from their friends and neighbors, and their work–even when successful–goes unheralded.  That’s too bad.  Like most institutionalized animal abuse, exotic animal acts are market-dependent. Without venues in which to perform, companies devoted to such endeavors cannot long survive.  People like those in the Committee to Ban Wild and Exotic Animal Acts are working to starve the beast of animal exploitation.  Regardless of the trial’s outcome, such groups deserve our attention and support.

dnc

Update: Check out this article on two of the members of the Committee and their efforts on behalf of the circus animals.