By Deborah Robinson on In Defense of Animals (IDA)
In the case of ASPCA et al. v. Feld Entertainment/Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Judge Emmett Sullivan ruled against the advocates for elephants on technical grounds – concluding that plaintiffs Tom Rider and the Animal Protection Institute (API) had not established the standing required for bringing a lawsuit in federal court. The case was dismissed on a legal technicality; the judge never addressed the merits of the case or the claim that the circus’ routine beating and chaining of elephants violates the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
We will have more to say about this monumental legal case as we analyze and digest the judge’s 57-page decision, but we reiterate that this ruling is by no means an endorsement of Ringling’s treatment of their elephants, or even a finding that the elephants are treated humanely or appropriately.
Ringling will no doubt try to spin the decision as a victory for the circus, but it is not a vindication of their brutal training and management practices. In fact, the record established by this trial documents Ringling’s routine abuse of elephants, as Ringling employees and even CEO Kenneth Feld acknowledged under oath and in sworn documentation that:
- the elephants are routinely hit with bullhooks
- they are regularly chained in box cars for more than 26 hours at a time and for as long as 100 hours without a break while traveling across the country for 11 months of the year, and for as much as 22½ hours each day in Ringling’s breeding center
- baby elephants are forcibly separated from their mothers for training at age two or younger
The trial record will stand as a stunning indictment of this circus and its archaic elephant acts, though we will have to wait a bit longer for legal redress.
IDA and all elephant advocates owe a huge debt of gratitude to the attorneys, organizations and individuals behind this lawsuit, including lead Plaintiff Tom Rider, the former Ringling employee who made the legal action possible. We are disappointed that there was no decision on Ringling’s treatment of its elephants, but you can be sure we will continue the fight until there are no more elephants performing in circuses anywhere.