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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 26 December 2003 Issue

Elephant Abuse Under The Big Top!

An article in the Monday, December 15, USA Today is a sure sign that we have come a long way as a movement.
Ringling Brothers has sent out a press release stating, "On December 5, 2003 at 9:25 a.m., Riccardo, a 232-pound male, Asian elephant, joined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC) family."  I have no doubt that just a few years ago, such an announcement would have resulted in nothing but fluff pieces promoting Ringling's wonderful conservation efforts. But the article in today's USA Today (Pg. 7D) is headed, " Under the big top: Asian elephant conservation. Animal activists say it's just an act."
Sure, we wish the article was an expose focusing exclusively on the cruelty of the circus. We'll get there. But having the animal rights point of view included in the headline is a sign that we have come very far.  Rather than just swallowing the circus's press release, the paper also sought the animal rights view. If I was into drinking before noon, I'd be breaking out the Verve Cliquot.
The article, by Joe Eaton, presents the Ringling spin. It quotes Ringling's Kenneth Feld saying he is as proud and happy as he would be about having his own child.
It continues, "Riccardo was born at Ringling's Center for Elephant Conservation, a private 200-acre breeding and elephant retirement facility near Tampa. The program has had 16 elephant births, including Riccardo's parents, since 1992. It expects four more arrivals in the next 18 months. Ringling has 64 Asian elephants, a third of which perform in the circus. The success of the breeding program is a success for the endangered Asian elephant, Feld says."

Then Eaton writes:

"Animal welfare groups, however, say Feld is using the breeding program to justify the circus's poor treatment of the elephants."
Pointing out the disingenuousness of Ringling's position, HSUS's Wayne Pacelle is quoted: "'We're not just making them do tricks and keeping them in chains. We're saving elephants.' That's what they are saying."

And then Eaton includes information we can be sure Ringling Brothers didn't want in the story:
"Three animal welfare groups and a former Ringling Bros. employee have filed suit in U.S. District Court charging that the circus's handling of Asian elephants violates the Endangered Species Act. The suit says that, among claims of abuse, the circus uses ropes and chains to forcibly remove nursing baby elephants from their mothers.

"John Kirtland, who oversees animal stewardship at the circus, acknowledges that ropes are used to separate baby elephants from their mothers, but he says it does not cause injury. 'It's a 2,000-pound animal,' he says of the young elephants. 'You ain't going to pull it by its ear.'

In the final lines we are reminded that the whole point of the conservation effort is to acquire elephants for the circus:  
"Kirtland says Riccardo's future is uncertain. When he's 3 or 4 years old, his temperament will be evaluated to determine whether he will go to the circus. But because male elephants tend to be more aggressive than females, Riccardo may never see the big top."
You can read the full article on line at:
Please thank USA Today for including the information about separating babies from mothers using ropes and chains, and reminding readers that a life in the circus is a life in chains (using your own words please). The story has given us a great opportunity to write letters to the editor providing more information on the cruelty of the circus. You'll find loads of information on the treatment of performing animals, including distressing footage of baby elephants being beaten during training sessions, at

USA Today takes letters at: [email protected]

Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor. Shorter letters are more likely to be published.

Yours and the animals',

Karen Dawn

 (DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it at
. To subscribe to DawnWatch, email [email protected]  and tell me you'd like to receive alerts.  If at any time you find DawnWatch is not for you, just let me know via email and I'll take you off the subscriber list immediately. If you forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts, please do so unedited, leaving DawnWatch in the title and including this tag line.)

Return to Animals in Print 26 December 2003 Issue

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Please send comments and submittals to the Editor: Linda Beane [email protected]

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