After nearly a decade of litigation, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI)
will continue its battle to protect endangered Asian elephants from abuse at
the hands of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Yesterday
Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
decided the federal case against the circus lacked sufficient standing and
declined to address the merits of the case in the face of an overwhelming
amount of evidence presented at trial.
The groundbreaking lawsuit, brought against Ringling Bros.’ parent
company Feld Entertainment, Inc. ("FEI") by AWI and co-plaintiffs including
three other national animal advocacy groups and former Ringling Bros.
employee Tom Rider, revealed a mountain of evidence establishing the
physical, emotional and behavioral harm inflicted upon elephants by the
circus. It is the first case ever brought under the Endangered Species Act
to protect a captive endangered species.
During the six-week trial which was held earlier this year, testimony of
elephant abuse was not only elicited from plaintiffs’ witnesses, but from
circus witnesses as well. Kenneth Feld, Chief Executive Officer of FEI
admitted under oath that “all” of the elephant handlers "strike" the
elephants with bull hooks, and Gary Jacobson, general manager of the circus’
breeding farm in Florida, testified that most of the female elephants are
kept chained on two legs for at least 16 hours a day on concrete floors, and
that some of them are kept on chains for 23.5 hours a day at FEI's "Center
for Elephant Conservation."
"While we are disappointed that the judge did not address the merits of
this case, the public now knows that Ringling Bros.' Asian elephants are
systematically abused on a daily basis," said AWI General Counsel, Tracy
Silverman. "We will continue to work through other channels in our efforts
to ensure that these endangered animals are protected."
For now, it will be up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce
the law to protect captive Asian elephants in the United States. AWI plans
to work cooperatively with the agency to ensure that the animals are
"We remain confident that endangered Asian elephants held in captivity
solely for entertainment will one day be given the full protection to which
they are entitled under the law,” said AWI President, Cathy Liss. "These
magnificent animals should not be forced to endure bull hook beatings and
lives shackled in chains."