AWI Continues Fight to Protect Endangered Elephants from Abuse by Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus
An Animal Rights Article from


Tracy Silverman, Esq., AWI Animal Welfare Institute
December 2009

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 [12/30/09], Judge 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 protected.

"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."

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