USDA Ignores Ringling Bros.
This is good for the city councilors too. This shows
that the USDA looks the other way with Ringlings. Even when 8 elephants had
Tuberculosis, it was kept by the public. The USDA does not adequately
protect us and this is why city legislation is important for abuse and
public safety. (from Ann Albano)
FROM THE ANIMAL WELFARE INSTITUTE QUARTERLY:
USDA Ignores Ringling Bros.' Elephant Abuse
Ringling Bros.' elephants are restrained by short
chains attached to one or more of their legs when they are not dressed up
and forced to perform. Photos courtesy of Elephant Alliance files.
The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), the Fund for
Animals (FFA), and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals (ASPCA) just released an in-depth report revealing that the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA)-responsible for enforcement of the federal
Animal Welfare Act-routinely looks the other way when Ringling Bros.
and Barnum & Bailey beats and otherwise mistreats the
elephants in its circus.
The report, which can be viewed in full on AWI's
, was based on hundreds of records obtained through litigation and
the Freedom of Information Act. The documents show that USDA ignored crucial
evidence, closed investigations prematurely, and overrode its own
inspectors' and investigators' determinations-allowing Ringling to dupe the
public into believing that it doesn't mistreat its elephants. The 250 page
report traces nine different investigations over five years, and includes
the following revelations:
..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 USDA.
..USDA determined that Ringling's use of chains and
ropes to isolate nursing elephants from their mothers forcibly 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.
..Two former Ringling employees provided detailed
accounts of rampant beatings of the elephants. One of the elephants, Nicole,
was beaten so badly the bullhook being used on her shattered. Following up
on the complaint, USDA found elephants with scar tissue and recent wounds
and collected affidavit testimony from current Ringling employees that
bullhooks were commonly used and some of the elephants had boils as a result
of their use. Again, USDA closed this case without taking action.
..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.
Three years ago AWI, FFA, ASPCA, and Tom Rider, a
former Ringling employee, brought a lawsuit against Ringling under the
Endangered Species Act for its mistreatment of Asian elephants-an endangered
species (see AWI Quarterly, Fall 2000). Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of
Appeals rejected Ringling's arguments that the case should be dismissed so
it is now finally going forward in the federal district court in Washington,
D.C. The plaintiffs are being represented by the public interest law firm,
Meyer & Glitzenstein.
*A bullhook, otherwise known as an ankus, is a device
with a metal head similar to a fireplace poker (including a sharp point)
that sits on a two to three foot handle.
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